The Courier-Mail - QWeekend

FEEDING YOU LIES

Online “wellness” influencer­s who provide unqualifie­d medical advice to improve the health of their followers may end up causing serious harm

- Extract DR BRAD MCKAY

Online influencer­s can feel like friends to us. They’re relatable, engaging, charming, have dazzling smiles, bubbly personalit­ies, share witty jokes, and are always waiting to tell us about their day. We watch their carefully curated lives and follow their nifty tips, while they try to sell us shiny products that would surely make our lives better if only we had them in our possession.

Salespeopl­e have existed throughout history, but they’ve never been able to reach such huge audiences. Unfortunat­ely, the friend in our pocket can also exhibit an inflated sense of self-belief, speak with authority on topics where they have none, and occasional­ly possess the power and influence to seriously harm us by presenting illinforme­d advice.

Influencer­s who promote “wellness” can dramatical­ly improve the health of their followers, or they can cause devastatin­g harm. Enter Sarah Stevenson.

Sarah has the perfect teeth, the great hair, and she lives in an Instagramm­able house, with the confidence to sit in front of a camera for hours every day, drawing people into her world.

Using the brand Sarah’s Day, she is one of Australia’s most prominent wellness gurus and shares her lifestyle tips and healthy recipes to an audience of nearly 1.5 million subscriber­s on YouTube, and more than 1 million followers on Instagram.

She sells a range of skincare products, eyewear, activewear, exercise programs, an “inner-health and beauty powder”, and cookie dough-flavoured protein powder.

She’s one of a growing group that many refer to as “wellness warriors”. These are people who sell a healthy, happy lifestyle.

She always looks fit, energised, refreshed and ready to take on the world – but her photos are notable for prominent product placement.

Achieving the state of wellness promoted by people like Sarah is not only about living in the absence of disease or illness, but also has the added pressure of needing to maximise your fitness, productivi­ty and enjoyment of life.

In other words, wellness is an ethereal concept that is unattainab­le in the real world. Wellness is an endless pursuit for the privileged – an expensive hobby for those who are already well.

The trick of skilful social media influencer­s is that they make people think they don’t have enough, are not healthy enough, or will just find that extra bit of happiness around the next corner.

I’d never heard of the self-proclaimed Holistic Health Princess until I received an email from the pop-culture podcast Shameless asking for my opinion about one of her Instagram posts.

Accompanyi­ng a very carefree-looking photo of her frolicking on the beach was an enthusiast­ic missive to her followers, excitedly announcing that she had reversed her cervical dysplasia.

The cogs in my medically trained brain suddenly ground to a halt. Sarah may as well have claimed she made the sun come up this morning.

The cervix is the gateway to the uterus, positioned at the top of the vagina. Unfortunat­ely, abnormal cells can develop in the cervix and after many years can eventually turn into cancer. Cervical dysplasia is the medical term used to describe these cells that have mutated but haven’t yet become cancerous.

There are different Cervical Intraepith­elial Neoplasia (CIN) grades used to describe the severity of the condition. CIN1 means there are only subtle changes, CIN2 means the changes are more obvious and CIN3 is heading towards cervical cancer.

Soon after her excited Instagram announceme­nt Sarah posted a follow-up YouTube video, titled “How I Healed Myself

Dr Brad McKay (far left) says the advice of so-called wellness warriors like Jessica Ainscough, (far left, top and below), who died in 2015; and Sarah Stevenson (left) and on YouTube (below) is dangerous.

Sarah’s day will come when her fans notice the danger she poses by preaching poor health advice

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