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Nevada Today

Nevada Today is a nonpartisan, independently owned and operated site dedicated to providing up-to-date news and smart analysis on the issues that impact Nevada's communities and businesses.

COVID-19HealthNews and informationThe Economy

This Week in Corona Scams: The “Wellness” Pyramid

This Week in Corona Scams, we’re talking “wellness”. With so many companies promising “wellness”, and with quite a few of these companies recruiting people into their multi-level marketing (or MLM) business structures, we need to take another look at what these companies are selling, why these companies prioritize recruiting, and how we can protect ourselves from the ever worsening “info-demic”.

First, an explanation on why I keep talking about “KM” and “BS Beads” 

Sometimes, I ask myself why I’ve become so obsessed with snake oil salespeople like the notorious Younique presenter known as “KM”. Her Facebook live streams continue to attract smaller and smaller crowds, and Younique appears to be on the brink of becoming another MLM that fails on its own ramshackle pyramid of cards. (Remember that MLM’s tend to require their salespeople to buy their products, and to recruit new people to buy their products and recruit other people, in order to advance in their respective companies.)

For me, it comes down to this: “KM” is incredibly emblematic of the larger crisis facing America. With President Donald Trump openly spreading mendacious misinformation, and with the nation falling deeper into an “info-demic” of fact-free propaganda, we’ve seen the metastasization of “Corona Scams” ranging from fast and dirty money grabs to outright lies about elusive “cures”. And before anyone accuses me of overreacting, read Kaiser Family Foundation’s new poll on Americans’ attitudes toward COVID-19 and weep.

And even worse, far too many media industry “gatekeepers” and social media conglomerates have been far too willing to let these scammy lies slide by. After all, for all her repeated claims of “vibrational energy healing” with no actual science to back them up, “KM” continues to post these mendacious claims on Facebook and Instagram with zero fact-checking and zero consequences… And she’s far from the only “Corona Scammer” who continues to get away with it.

Now, let’s get oily. (But will it make us UnWell?)

Back in July 2019, an Insider poll found that 34% of American adults believe that essential oils have essential health benefits. Even back then, celebrities like RuPaul and Laura Dern were promoting the essential oil MLM giant doTERRA while celebrities like Alexa Vega were openly recruiting folks for the other essential oil MLM giant, Young Living. Now that COVID-19 (alongside wildly false propaganda on this pandemic) is spreading, Young Living and doTERRA salespeople have flooded the internet with all sorts of fantastical claims on the “healing powers” of their respective essential oils.

Essential oils may have built two massive MLM’s and additional lucrative companies, but that doesn’t mean they cure any diseases. While there’s some evidence suggesting that essential oil aromatherapy can help in treating conditions like anxiety and insomnia, there is zero scientific evidence to back up the claims on essential oil curing COVID-19, cancer, heart disease, paralysis, and many of the other life-threatening ailments that MLM salespeople and other essential oil boosters claim their products “cure”. And when these “oily people” take to their social media pages to recommend that we ingest essential oils, keep in mind that these “natural remedies” can be poisonous when improperly used.

The essential oils craze has been spinning out of control for some time, along with the continuing saturation of MLM’s into our economy. According to documents filed by plaintiffs in their lawsuit against Young Living that’s now pending in a California federal court, 94% of Young Living salespeople earn an average of $1 per month in sales. Even worse, according to the plaintiffs’ documents, once mandatory expenses (as in, Young Living salespeople’s required purchases of Young Living products in order to stay active in the company) are factored in, these salespeople on average lost $1,175 in 2016. 

And before anyone claims doTERRA has any better business practices, keep in mind that the FTC sent a warning letter to doTERRA (along with several other MLM companies) this past April over doTERRA salespeople repeatedly making fraudulent health and income claims. At least now that Netflix has released UnWell (and especially since that one UnWell episode on essential oils and the MLM’s that hawk them has gone totally viral), more Americans are finally starting to realize that just because our favorite celebrities promote something on Instagram doesn’t make that something “the miracle cure”.

Life is anything but a beach at this MLM.

When state and local governments began to order business shutdowns in March, MLM executives pounced on what they saw as the perfect opportunity to recruit new salespeople. BeachBody is another MLM that’s been caught doing not just this, but also making all kinds of incredulous health claims. When they’re not claiming they have the perfect “work-from-home money-making opportunity”, they’re claiming that their “superfood nutrition” and “optimized workouts” keep them in such tip-top shape that they’ve developed “natural immunity”.

As we’ve previously explained, pre-existing conditions can play a role in exacerbating risk of hospitalization and death, but we all ultimately face risk of severe illness from COVID-19 if we don’t take necessary precautions like social distancing and wearing masks when out of the house. And as Dr. David Gorski explains at Respectful Insolence, “metabolic optimization” is no substitute for taking these basic precautions.

While it’s definitely beneficial to develop and maintain good exercise and nutritional habits, BeachBody and other MLM’s have no special “health”, “fitness”, and/or “wellness” expertise. Team BeachBody coaches (aka, BeachBody’s salespeople) have no requirement to hold any actual professional licenses as personal trainers or dietitians, but they are under constant pressure to recruit new coaches to buy Shakeology, other BeachBody supplements, and official BeachBody workout materials.

Like other MLM’s, over 98% of Team BeachBody coaches generate revenue that amounts to far less than Nevada’s current $8 per hour minimum wage. And once we factor in mandatory expenses to stay active in BeachBody (see Young Living above), the vast majority of BeachBody coaches are probably losing money rather than making any kind of livable income. 

But wait, there’s even more.

Just like YoungLiving eventually led to doTERRA, BeachBody’s success in recruiting people into its inverted funnel shaped “wellness” operation has resulted in other “health”, “fitness”, and “nutrition” MLM’s popping onto the “wellness” scene. More recently, Medifast has developed its own MLM brand Optavia that promises fast and sustainable weight loss. While parent company Medifast has promised customers that they can rely on professional experts to help them on their “wellness” journeys, those who sign up for Optavia actually interact with Optavia salespeople – just like BeachBody.

It’s largely the same story with other “wellness” oriented MLM’s, such as Arbonne, Isagenix, and ItWorks! Also keep in mind that the FTC also sent warning letters to Arbonne and ItWorks! this past April. I guess I can never say this enough: Always look for the fine print and always ask questions before jumping into any “business opportunity”, no matter how enticing their pitches are. And always seek health advice from actual, licensed medical professionals before trying any “special new medicine”, regardless of the fantastical claims you see on social media.

If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square.

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