The health niche is spectacularly inundated with online content, and writing about health is a popular choice for freelance writers. You can see emerging health trends all over the place if you look hard enough. Tele-medicine, cannabis oil, herbs and supplements, protein shakes, free-from produce and e-cigarettes are just some of the MANY health topics saturating the internet. And with every new company, website or expert that surfaces, content is required for their online followers to gorge on.
And why not? Health is everyone’s business, after all. You won’t find a single person on this planet who hasn’t at some point experienced poor health, and so this trillion dollar industry is smart to want to make a buck or two while helping people at the same time.
But the sad fact is, some of these products and companies are NOT necessarily helping people. Their claims can vary from questionable to ludicrous. Their ethics aren’t necessarily monitored and it’s sometimes hard to know if the science is even valid.
For example, not long ago I was mindlessly absorbing content via my Facebook news feed (as many of us do) and came across a pretty lame claim. According to this website, grated lemon zest (when eaten daily) cures cancer. Yikes! Now, any health scientist, GP, oncologist, nurse, pharmacist or public health adviser will dispute this. There’s no real evidence for it and, if it were that simple, we’d all be cancer-free after having our annual lemon-peel infused immunisation! Plus, lemons would certainly cost a lot more than they do! But the debate here isn’t whether or not it’s true. The debate is… Would you write that content and be happy to have it splashed all over the internet? If the answer is no, you might want to consider how far you’re willing to go when writing for the health sector.
The good news is, you can adapt your language to be responsible, no matter who your health client is.
Here’s an example:
One of my favourite clients in the health sector sells diet products to young women. And I couldn’t be happier with my health writing job! But when I talk about, let’s say, the health and diet benefits of getting enough sleep (a topic I was asked to cover just last week), I need to be careful. I don’t want to tell people that they will be cured of disease or safe from the onset of obesity if they get enough sleep. I also don’t want to imply that readers are overweight solely because of their sleeping patterns or make promises I can’t keep about the consequences of good sleep hygiene. So, how do I ensure readers are kept safe and I remain responsible when writing for the health space? Here are my tips:
- Use primary research to back up your claims. Go to Google Scholar and put in your key words (for example, sleep and health), and find some studies that can validate what you’re saying. Then, hyperlink any claims you make so that readers can go to the original study if they choose.
- When conducting research, make sure the research is relatively up to date! A research paper from the early 1990s may not be very reliable these days.
- Try to avoid blanket statements like ‘This will result in you losing weight” or “Taking this supplement will lower your blood pressure”. Instead, use words like ‘might’ or ‘can’ or ‘has been known to’. So, you instead will write “This could result in you losing weight”, or “Taking this supplement has been known to lower blood pressure”. This practise absolves you from making promises you can’t keep and gives the reader more realistic expectations. It also means the client is less likely to lose customers.
Please remember that writing in the health niche comes with some responsibility. If you’re putting your name to anything, protect your reputation by ensuring that you’re happy with the ethos of the company / website / magazine you’re working with. Writing about health is FUN and incredibly rewarding. There is also an abundance of health writing work out there, so it’s certainly worth exploring. As long as you’re a good researcher, informed and take the subject seriously, there is much potential to grow and develop as a reputable health writer.