BUSTED: This Popular "Independent" Health Website is Deceiving You

health websiteIn a shocking report published earlier this year, BNET exposed how WebMD's online test for depression is rigged for profit:

"Feeling depressed? Cheer yourself up by taking WebMD's comical new depression test.

It's sponsored by Eli Lilly (LLY) — maker of the antidepressant Cymbalta – so they must know what they're talking about, right?

In fact, no matter which of the 10 answers you choose on the test, the result comes out the same:

You may be at risk for major depression."

But that's just the beginning. A number of questions about just how 'independent' a source WebMD is have since surfaced, and the answers are not what you'd expect.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

This entire story reminds me of the old adage, "with friends like that, who needs enemies?"

If you didn't already know this, WebMD is the second most visited health web site on the entire web. The general belief is that it's a first-rate, trustworthy source of "independent and objective" information about health.

In fact, the only health site more popular than WebMD is the National Institutes of Health (NIH). You also might not realize that earlier this year Mercola.com, moved up to the third most visited health site on the internet. Mercola.com has been the most visited natural health site in the world for the last five years.

You can see a complete listing of the top 20 most visited health and natural health sites below.

Source: Alexa.com December 9, 2010

But as far as being geared for the average person, WebMD is clearly the number one source of health information for a large number of people, which makes the following information all the more disturbing.

If You Weren't Depressed Before, WebMD's Test Guarantees You Will Be

Chances are you've seen WebMD's ad on TV recommending you take their free online depression screening test.

But did you know the test was rigged so that no matter how you responded, the answer was always the same: You may be at risk for major depression, and it would probably do you well to discuss it with your doctor…

As it turns out, the test is sponsored by drug giant Eli Lilly, the maker of Cymbalta, and apparently there's no room for mentally healthy individuals in this scheme.

This is a sad commentary on the current disease paradigm we live in…

Although the test states that it's sponsored by Eli Lilly, how many people would automatically assume that this publicized test, offered on one of the most visited health sites on the web, would give them an entirely false result, perhaps designed to push even the most well-balanced individual into considering taking an antidepressant?

I'm willing to bet quite a few people have taken WebMD's test, and based on the result started thinking that perhaps they're a candidate for a 'happy pill' after all…

Senator Charles Grassley believed this was a very real possibility, and demanded the link between WebMD and Eli Lilly be investigated. As a result, minor changes to the test were implemented. However, the WebMD depression screening test still offers NO objective information whatsoever. Writing for BNET, Jim Edwards posted the following update:

"WebMD has changed its Eli Lilly-sponsored depression test so that not every answer results in a diagnosis of potential major depression. BNET noted on Feb. 22 that if you checked the "no" box to all 10 symptoms in the online quiz, the results page said, "You may be at risk for major depression," and urged users to call a doctor "right away" if they were feeling suicidal.

Now, the result for someone indicating no symptoms of depression says:

Lower Risk

You replied that you are feeling four or fewer of the common symptoms of depression. In general, people experiencing depression have five or more common symptoms of the condition. But every individual is unique. If you are concerned about depression, talk with your doctor.

While "lower risk" is certainly an improvement for someone indicating no symptoms of depression, WebMD is still gilding the Lilly."

I agree. This "screening" test is just a cleverly disguised form of direct-to-consumer marketing.

Selling, or Selling Out?

Sure, WebMD needs to make money just like any other major web site, including mine. They don't sell products, so therefore they rely on advertising.

In reality WebMD is a marvelous example of the brilliant marketing the drug companies are doing. They seek to provide you with the illusion of an independent objective third party that just so happens to confirm their solution is the best choice for your health issues.

But when you draw back the curtains you will find it is the drug companies themselves that are crafting the message and not an independent entity.

They invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year on WebMD alone, in my opinion to distort reality so they can convince you that it's perfectly rational to choose their expensive and, in my opinion, sometimes toxic solutions for your health care challenges.

I've chosen the opposite path – selling a limited number of well-researched and independently tested products that I personally believe in, in order to remain independent and unbiased; free from the spoken or unspoken demands of advertisers.

However, WebMD does not appear to be particularly objective in the types of advertisers they allow on their site. Prescription drugs for every imaginable problem are listed on virtually every page. Along with plenty of processed foods and snacks.

The revenue generated from this advertising is considerable.

According to a recent WebMD press release, the revenue from advertising and sponsorship for the months of July through September, 2010, topped $113 million, up from $89 million for the same quarter last year.

Beware of Subliminal Sales Tactics!

OpEdNews.com also points out the site's habit of offering unmarked product placement to various pharmaceutical companies, which is an insidious, sneaky, subliminal sales tactic:

"Lilly is not the only pharma company receiving unmarked product placement on WebMD," Martha Rosenberg writes for OpEdNews.

"Last summer, a video featured a woman patient confessing she was fearful of life while a voice-over said she needed treatment for "general anxiety disorder" and the camera showed bottles of Forest Pharmaceuticals' antidepressant Lexapro moving down the manufacturer's assembly line.

Get it? No disclaimer on the video or "sponsored content" appeared.

Another unsponsored WebMD video last summer urged people on antidepressants to remain on their therapy "despite side effects" and a third suggested women concerned about cancer, heart attack and stroke risks of postmenopausal hormone therapy should continue their treatment at lowered doses. 'Hang in there, valued customers'..."

The Subsidiaries of WebMD

Furthermore, their partnerships and subsidiaries suggest that WebMD is anything but an independent consumer website offering accurate and independent health advice. (WebMD owns four of the top ten most visited health sites on the web, further extending Big Pharma's influence.)

The WebMD Health empire includes the following subsidiaries:

  • Drugs.com
  • Medscape
  • MedicineNet
  • eMedicine / eMedicine Health
  • RxList
  • theHeart.org

According to Rosenberg, drug giant Eli Lilly was actually one of WebMD's original partners and investors, along with:

  • Microsoft
  • DuPont
  • Rupert Murdoch's News Corp (including his Fox TV networks)
  • Silicon Graphics
  • Netscape founder Jim Clark
  • EDS (computer services company founded by H. Ross Perot)

Just how independent and objective can you be in your health recommendations when one of your investors is a major drug company?

WebMD and most, if not all, of its subsidiaries claim to be "independent." For example, drugs.com has the following statement at the bottom of every web page:

"Drugs.com provides free, accurate and independent advice on more than 24,000 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines & natural products."

And yet drugs.com is owned by WebMD, which has close ties to Big Pharma, and recommends drugs for their advertisers and pharmaceutical partners…

WebMD is Partnered with the US FDA – What Does that Mean for Impartial Health Advice?

Even more interesting: The first-ever partnership between the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a private company is with, you guessed it, WebMD!

The two partnered up two years ago.


Well, according to WebMD's own announcement:

"The partnership will enhance the FDA's ability to get crucial information to the American public, FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, MD, said in a news conference.

… "WebMD has been a leader with regard to innovation in the use of the web as a form of communication and service to the public," von Eschenbach said.

"What we will do by virtue of this partnership ... is to really be able to present online ... content material we at FDA feel is extremely important for consumers to be aware of as they are making critically important decisions for themselves and for their families about their health and the products that they use to ensure their health."

This completes the circle of full-on conflicts of interest.

Never-mind the fact that there might be any number of inexpensive, safe alternatives out there for each and every ailment WebMD presents, what you will learn is what the FDA has approved for your condition. And by default, you will be kept in the dark about the strategies that can make a real and lasting difference, courtesy of WebMD's financial ties to the drug- and processed food industries.

WebMD and its subsidiary sites are disguised as "independent consumer sites," when in truth they're paid by the pharmaceutical industry and exclusively and uniquely partnered with the FDA.

These sites contain mainly Big Pharma and advertising, they recommend specific drugs created by their advertisers, and offer questionnaires and medical screening tests created by pharmaceutical companies to create a false "need" for those drugs…

How can this type of government/big industry conflict of interest lead to "independent and objective" reporting and advice?

And how can this create fair competition?

Personally, I think it's a pretty deceitful practice to snooker consumers into taking expensive pharmaceutical drugs for every possible ailment!

According to Boston.com:

"A WebMD spokeswoman… [said] the company believes "our internal process ensures our editorial independence in our programs."

Sure. That process worked so well when devising that depression screening test, which was apparently so good they also spent big money to promote it on TV…

Good for Eli Lilly and their antidepressant Cymbalta, that is. Not for you, the health-conscious consumer. All you got was a sly marketing shtick for the time you invested in answering those questions.

However, that spokeswoman's statement brings up yet another point to remember when you're browsing through the content on WebMD, and that is paying close attention to WHO authored the message.

Financial Backers Include Not Just Drug Companies, but Processed Food Industry Too

In various areas you'll find a small link that says: "From our sponsor." If you click on that link, it will tell you that:

"Content under this heading is from or created on behalf of the named sponsor. This content is not subject to the WebMD Editorial Policy and is not reviewed by the WebMD Editorial department for accuracy, objectivity or balance."

The heading I'm looking at right now, at the time of this writing, is for "snacking smarter without the guilt." So… whatever the sponsor wants to say about "healthful snacking," that's the message you'll get. Obviously.

In this particular case, the sponsor wants you to know that baked potato chips are indeed healthier for you than regular potato chips. Isn't that great news!

The sponsor of this message is General Mills' Fiber One cereal – a breakfast cereal that, aside from being loaded with grain carbohydrates, also contains added sugar, corn syrup, brown sugar, AND sucralose.

Folks, in my opinion, this is about the worst breakfast you could possibly eat, unless you're hell-bent on developing diabetes. And don't get me started on the potato chips…

Again, WebMD is the second most visited health site on the web and if you add in all their other sites, collectively they are easily number one in the world. They attract tens of millions of readers every day looking for accurate and dependable health advice, but what advice can be trusted?

More Conflict of Interest: Medscape's Continuing Medical Education Courses

But the pharmaceutical industry doesn't just target you, they also target your doctor.

Medscape, which is one of WebMD's subsidiaries, administers highly lucrative continuing medical education courses (CME's), which doctors must complete to retain their state licenses. And these courses are, of course, ALSO sponsored by drug companies.

Medical students may have attempted to quench Big Pharma's influence over their medical education, but pharmaceutical companies could easily be considered the number one educators of doctors, in and out of school. Their influence is so significant, broad in scope, persistent, and oftentimes 'hidden' from clear view that many physicians don't even realize where the information is coming from.

And even when they do realize the source, they still oftentimes believe they're getting accurate and truthful information.

Final Thoughts

The WebMD matrix is a maddening, vicious circle of conflicts of interest that creates all manner of deceit and deception. But these shenanigans are still easy to identify and avoid.

Just Follow the Money.

It is an easy trap to fall in. Over 50 years ago JI Rodale founded Prevention Magazine and it was one of the top ten most read magazines in the country. Rodale was a leader in promoting natural medicine, a true pioneer and defender of health truth.

Unfortunately he made the typical mistake of leaving the business to his children. I learned from someone who was their health editor at one time, that his children actually shifted the ads from natural medicine to drugs and processed foods because they could earn substantially more profit.

Had JI Rodale left his business to a foundation, natural medicine would be much further ahead today. Instead Prevention Magazine is now just another mouthpiece for the drug and food industry and virtually everyone who understands natural medicine ignores it.

Similarly, with WebMD in my opinion, if you follow the money behind much of its advice (and definitely all of its subliminal marketing messages), it leads right back to the coffers of the processed food industry and the pharmaceutical cartel, which also, incidentally, pays WebMD's government partner, the FDA, to hurry up and approve their poorly tested drugs – so they can advertise them on WebMD, and so on and so forth.

I'm sure by now you can follow the dots and can draw your own circular maps with arrows marking the many conflicts of interest that exist between this unholy alliance of so-called independent health advisors, pharmaceutical companies, processed food companies, and the regulatory agency, the FDA.

Remember, You Can Take Control of Your Health

Folks, it's time take control of your health, and that includes being able to discern real health advice from shadow marketing machines and propaganda that serves no one but the very industries responsible for much of the ill health in the first place.