Kim Kardashian-Jameela Jamil feud has done more to expose detox tea lies than the FDA

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By S. Bryn Austin, professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health

Admittedly, I do not have my finger anywhere near the pulse of pop culture. I just figure if there’s anything I really need to know going viral through social media, my grad students will let me know. Maybe not the most reliable way for a scientist to gather data, I know, but it seems to be working. This week, it’s actually taught me an important lesson that I never learned through all my years of public health training: Celebrity takedowns of pseudoscience beat a mountain of data every time.

Case in point: In just a few months of shrewdly crafted social media posts, “The Good Place” star Jameela Jamil has opened the eyes of millions around the globe to the corrupt and deceptive detox tea market. Arguably, she’s done this more efficiently and expeditiously than a quarter century of well-intentioned but utterly unglamorous communications from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In case you missed it: The members of America’s reigning reality TV family the Kardashians, dubbed the “Kardashian industrial complex” by New York Times writer Amy Chozick, has for years hawked so-called detox teas for massive amounts of money in sponsorship contracts via social media. “So-called” because, most importantly, teas do not detox: Our bodies come complete with livers, kidneys and other bodily processes designed to do that. These products are no more than a lucrative Trojan horse masquerading as a “wellness hack,” cleverly engineered to get millions of people to abuse laxatives in hopes of looking thin.

In just a few months of shrewdly crafted social media posts, “The Good Place” star Jameela Jamil has opened the eyes of millions around the globe to the corrupt and deceptive detox tea market.

Jamil has been particularly frustrated with the Kardashians’ promotion of laxatives, accusing them publicly of being “double agents for the patriarchy” and slyly substituting the image of Kardashian pockets lined with gold with the indelibly repugnant image of their “pockets lined with the blood and diarrhea of teenage girls.”

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Thank you, Jameela! Years of accumulating research, my own and that of hundreds of other scientists, has shown beyond any semblance of a scientific doubt that detox teas and the larger market of dietary supplements sold for weight loss are deceptive snake oil. Actually, that’s at their best. At their worst, they are dangerous and sometimes life-ending toxic brews that exploit the insecurities of vulnerable consumers, especially teenage girls, who bear the brunt of the most intense body shaming pressures in our weight-obsessed culture.





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