April 21, 2024
Health

Health influencers: Sift chaff from whole wheat


Who hasn’t come across a chirpy Insta health influencer telling us what to eat, how to sleep, how to rest, how to make love, how to be mentally healthy, spiritually fulfilled, and so on?

Now, wait. Don’t get me wrong.

I think it’s fantastic that there’s far more awareness on health, including mental health, from even five years ago.

The problem is many seem to have little domain knowledge and seem better at talking the walk than walking the talk.

The basic formula is traditional Indian beliefs, packaged well to sound brand new. There’s an overdose of patriotism, of course: the West is bad, the East is good, and so on. Such visionaries, these health influencers show us the true meaning of living our best lives, one #Insta post at a time.

Over the last few years, I have negotiated my way around the Sly Stallones of the health and nutrition influencer world, and have shortlisted a few I have benefited from.

Here they are. Feel free to add yours.

Sandeep Mall: A first-gen entrepreneur running a Delhi-based engineering company, Mall is well known in the health community (especially on X, formerly Twitter) for his email newsletters that cover ‘deep health’ — a holistic approach to well-being that encompasses six broad dimensions: physical, emotional, mental, social, environmental and existential.

It’s one of the most forwarded health newsletters in the country.

Mall also mentors many young people and recently penned Finding the Oasis, a book on deep health based on his personal experience.

Krish Ashok: Is sugar that bad for you? Are plant-based protein supplements better than animal-based supplements? Is MSG bad for you? Why are fish from cold climes richer in Omega 3 compared to those from tropical regions? What does coffee do to your body? Is the Keto diet a fad? Why do health influencers rarely talk about genetics?

Ashok, a senior IT leader, explains the science of food in simple terms, debunks myths, and rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I plan to read his book Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking someday.

Pradip Jamnadas: A Florida-based cardiologist and clinical assistant professor, Dr Jamnadas has more than 30 years’ experience in preventive health. He has performed thousands of interventional procedures and his educational videos on fasting and heart health have been viewed by hundreds of thousands on his YouTube channel.

Jamnadas is a big fan of fasting: “We are genetically designed to fast. People have been fasting since the beginning of time. Socrates, for example, fasted for mental clarity. We are provided with the tools necessary to fast,” he says.

Finally, I encourage all readers to explore health influencers — as you’ve figured out by now, most of them are not worth five seconds of Insta (Reel) time. But keep the radar up for people like Mall, Ashok and Jamnadas; ask questions — or rather, find new questions to ask (‘How can I lose weight?’ is so ’90s) — and start your deep health journey. It’s fun. By the way, the influencers I have mentioned may not work for you — everything isn’t for everyone.

Here’s a quick checklist for zeroing in on the right kind of health influencers.

1. They must have written a book or two at least. This demonstrates slow, critical thinking. It’s easy to copy-paste some Insta nonsense about mental wellness, difficult to write a paragraph about cod liver oil. Get it?

2. Look for influencers who are passionate about helping others live healthier lives, not just promoting products or services. For example, avoid self-styled yoginis who peddle big plastic buckets of protein powder.

3. Check out their creds. Are they registered dieticians or certified personal trainers? Do they have a degree in a related field? Do they have a science background, at least? A high school dropout is unlikely to understand gut health beyond a point.

4. Look for influencers who share their health journeys, not just their successes but also their struggles. Though this is tricky — avoid people who use their journeys like a crutch, to gain attention/pity.

5. Check out their content. Do they offer practical advice and tips, or are they just promoting the latest fad diet or workout trend? Is most of the content gym shots with flat stomachs and rippling muscles? Run away.

6. Look for influencers who are transparent about their partnerships and sponsorships. Watch out for the ones who’ve been paid by the food industry to promote unproven supplements and downplay the risks of highly processed foods.

7. Use influencer marketplaces like Ainfluencer or IZEA to find relevant influencers based on category, number of followers, engagement rate, location, and so on.

That’s it. All the best for your health. And watch out for mental health, the silent killer; more on this someday.

PS: The Department of Consumer Affairs recently said the government is putting out guidelines for influencers promoting health and wellness products and services. Such influencers would be required to display their qualifications to the department and audiences.

(Shubho Sengupta is a digital marketer with an analogue ad agency past. He can be found @shubhos on X)



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