With the joys of the holiday season upon us, I was particularly proud of my mum booking herself onto a cruise. As a single lady of nearly 77, it was a big step to take to go away on her own, albeit only for 5 days - it was expensive, but I hoped really worth it.
Overall I think she had a lovely time, but one aspect of her post-travel tales really bothered me. During her stay on-board she attended a seminar on health, had a 'personal assessment', and ended up coming home with some pills and a new diet. I was concerned but mum attempted to reassure me by saying: "Cunard wouldn't allow anything dodgy to be sold to their customers."
My skepticism remained, so I did a bit of research. Online forums provided a very interesting glimpse into the 'sales pitch' my mother was likely subjected to. People talk of being hard-sold detox products that claim they will revolutionise their health and wellbeing, helping them to lose weight, have more energy, resolve health problems and basically make them feel younger, fitter and happier.
People also wrote about the extraordinary price that this 'new you' comes at. My mother parted with over 300 dollars for her personal assessment, dietary guide and pills. And it seems no matter what the result of your 'personal' assessment, there is a diet and a product for you.
For me, this is nothing more than praying on the health vulnerabilities of older people. Most older people know family or friends with long-term health conditions, or they have them themselves. Many people are overweight and concerned about developing health conditions - we know, for example, that dementia is now the most feared health condition for people over 50. And of course cruise ships are a perfect place to tap into this market and offer older people the chance to 'improve' their health.
In my work, I am contacted numerous times a month by people with products claiming to do everything from 'curing' dementia (technically inaccurate and highly misleading) to diabetes. I have never, and will never, endorse any product no matter how bona fide it claims to be. I am clear - I am not a qualified health professional, with years of medical knowledge into the science behind what medications or supplements help with managing conditions like diabetes, heart disease or the many different types of dementia.
Only people with genuine medical qualifications should be in a position to recommend such products. I can only imagine those that are, like for example GP's, must be extremely frustrated when their patients fall victim to pills or potions that claim all kinds of health miracles only to leave the patient disappointed or, worse still, ill.
We've all seen the stories of dodgy diet pills bought on the internet that have killed people, and just because something claims to be 'natural' and full of 'plant and herb extracts' doesn't make it safe for everyone, or indeed anyone. When people ask me what they can do to improve their health and wellbeing, I only ever comment on that which forms part of well-researched government health advice, and most people already know that from reading and hearing the news.
As for my mum's experiences on her cruise, I am angry with those peddling what she came home with. My mum is a healthy and active lady for her age. She is slim, hardly drinks any alcohol, has never smoked, eats a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, drinks green tea and water, and regularly walks up and down the local hills, not to mention keeping up with her very active baby granddaughter. In my work I see numerous people who would love the health and levels of activity that my mum enjoys.
Yet my mum was told she needed to 'cleanse her liver', detox her body, purify and rebalance herself - interesting since her last routine blood tests and health-check showed her to be in excellent health. My research into the products she was sold have informed me that they are basically fancy laxatives. Some people write about drastic weight loss whilst on them, which is hardly a good idea for an already slim lady, and I'm mindful of the potential for causing dehydration and the poor absorption of essential daily nutrients (both serious problems in older people), not to mention the effects on the intestines and bowel from these products given that there is a history of bowel cancer in our family. It is fair to say that the ultimate irony here is that products sold to 'improve' your health and your life might actually make your health worse and shorten your life.
Fortunately, having done a bit more research, my mum has now decided to cease taking these products and return them. It will be interesting to see if a refund is forthcoming, since I believe she was clearly mis-sold them. You may say she was gullible, and in hindsight she might agree with you. What really concerns me, though, is if my mum can be duped (with a daughter like me who has spent many hours angrily denouncing the 'cure all' products peddled to me), then I fear many, many others will be taken in too. That, I find, utterly repugnant.