The business of peddling fear and fake hope


The first time I read it, it seemed like some kind of sick joke.

A man, convicted in the death of his son, was recently slated to speak about healthy living at a “wellness expo.”

Some backstory: David Stephan and his wife believed herbal treatments would cure their son’s meningitis. When they finally called 911, it was too late. The child died because they didn’t provide the necessities of life.

It would appear Stephan hasn’t learned any lessons, ranting online about how the world is against him. He still somehow feels that these “alternative” treatments are better than modern medical care.

While the Health and Wellness Expo, a travelling roadshow touring major Western Canadian cities, was expecting him to give thousands of people health advice, all I could think about was that poor child. Why would someone listen to a speaker talk about caring for loved ones when he didn’t properly care for his?

Related: When evidence-free fear does real harm — Timothy Caulfield

Unfortunately, the world of natural medicine is full of zealots. Sure, there are some areas where I’m sure natural treatments can be effective. But too often pseudo-science reigns supreme, and this was clearly no different.

Rick Thiessen, owner of the Expo, didn’t seem to think anything was wrong, telling the CBC that Stephan’s invitation had nothing to do with him being arrested for his son’s death, and instead was about Stephan’s company’s health-care products. He also said having controversial speakers was important to his offering at the expositions he’s been running for 24 years. The agenda

But, in an industry where the top item for sale is usually a cure for the fear the seller peddles, it seems Thiessen finally did get scared and dropped Stephan from the agenda when the money started disappearing from major sponsors, such as Sobey’s and Flaman Fitness.

Other than finding an audience, I can’t imagine why either of these brands would ever want to be seen supporting an industry like this.

“Health” gurus are only one part of the Expo. The event also hosted screenings of the film Food Matters. It’s a movie made by two filmmakers that claim they want to “rethink our belief systems’ in modern medicine. They claim supplements and a detox diet will cure fatal diseases, such as terminally diagnosed cancer.

Preying on people like this is becoming all too common, with those that are ill grasping at any glimmer of hope. I’m all for hope, but I find it all too disgusting that those offering that hope are ready to profit from the sale of the treatment.

Major brands need to check into what they prop up and where they are seen. Whether or not Stephan was involved in these Expos or not, Sobey’s support of an event that propels the myth that vaccinating your children is dangerous or that a detox shake can cure cancer is a dangerous path to travel down. Is their marketing department so desperate to be seen as health-conscience visionaries that they’d leave their conscience at the door without checking whether people are given factual advice on how to keep their children and families healthy?

And the same goes to Flaman Fitness. Is selling a few ellipticals a better solution than making sure another generation is healthy enough to walk into their stores because they aren’t sick from their parents’ concerns about a booster shot? Having their roots in Saskatchewan agriculture almost makes it worse, given these Expos are probably crying foul over the products coming from other businesses the Flaman Group of Companies is involved in.

As for Stephan, I’m glad to see the uproar that he’s brought on to himself. I just hope the trend continues. If companies want to brand themselves as in favour of healthy living, they should not lend their national brands and sponsorship dollars to those that spread fear, guilt, and outright lies.

Companies have to do a better job at creating a system that weeds out the soapbox sellers from those actually wanting better for Canadians.

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