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Social media health trends are ‘putting women’s lives at risk’, warn experts

Experts have raised concerns over the rise of ‘concerning’ health trends on TikTok and Instagram

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Wellness trends are putting women’s lives at risk, experts have said, amid warnings that a growing number of young people are turning to social media for health advice.

Inaccurate health information and hacks like the “period cancelling craze”, which encourages women to consume a combination of jelly powder, lemon juice and ibuprofen to reduce menstrual flow, have taken social media by storm.

There has been an increase in content posted on TikTok and Instagram discussing the alleged dangers of birth control and more and more content creators are sharing their experiences with natural contraceptive methods.

While speaking publicly about certain concerns can help destigmatise taboo women’s health issues, experts have warned that some social media health trends can do more harm than good.

“Social media does not put the health information in the proper context because it is set up for quick and flashy messages,” Georgie Kovacs, women’s health expert and founder of Fempower Health, told Femtech World.

“The algorithm appears to push content that is sensationalised and there is no way to separate influencers from clinicians.

“Even clinicians vary in their views. The ones who seem to be loudest get the most views and followers, but are they the ones keeping up with data? Are they subconsciously riding the wave of their big personality driving followers and likes and shares?”

Karolina Löfqvist, co-founder and CEO of Hormona, said social media trends typically lack any scientific backing, putting women at serious risk of making “ill-informed” decisions about their bodies.

“While influencer content can serve as useful reminders to women that they are not alone and many accounts are committed to sharing only verified information, social media has blurred the lines between expert and non-expert voices, making it harder to separate the truth from the lies.

“Platforms need to take responsibility for their users’ wellbeing by monitoring and flagging misleading or harmful health content that’s veiled as advice, and enforce stricter user guidelines to curb this growing spread of misinformation.”

Research shows young people are more likely to turn to their social media feeds for health advice, which means they are also more likely to discredit accurate health information. Dr Nitu Bajekal, senior OB/GYN and author of Finding Me in Menopause, is particularly worried about this.

“As a senior OB/GYN with nearly 40 years of clinical experience, I am concerned about the misinformation around hormonal contraception and the benefits of natural methods for contraception,” she explained.

“All these myths and misinformation are putting women’s lives at risk, especially because of the increased risk of an unplanned pregnancy. We know pregnancy can be a risky business for many.

“It also denies women with conditions that cause heavy or painful periods, such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids and PCOS, the chance to improve quality of life by being able to regulate their cycles with the pill.

“It is all very well for women who are in stable relationships or situations where they can afford to do natural cycle methods or barrier methods with condoms. For the rest of the world, however, having access to effective and safe hormonal and non-hormonal contraceptives remains crucial.”

Hannah Westwood, PhD researcher in the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, said much of the content we see on social media about contraception contains false information, suggesting that hormonal contraceptives are dangerous.

“The promotion of natural contraceptives has risen alongside a backlash against hormonal methods like the pill, patch and injection,” Westwood told Femtech World.

“This trend is worrying because it is encouraging social media users to switch away from their existing hormonal contraceptive method even if it is working for them, to natural methods which may be less effective.

“Natural methods must be carried out properly if they are to work effectively, since conditions such as endometriosis and lifestyle factors such as drinking alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of some of these methods.”

While combating this spread of health misinformation online is difficult, Westwood said it is important that anyone making medical decisions based on information from social media consults a medical professional before making changes.

“Platforms such as Instagram and TikTok need to have more specific guidelines relating to the sharing of health information and take responsibility for addressing the spread of misinformation,” she also noted.

Jamie Norwood, co-founder of sexual health platform Stix, added: “When women don’t have the right information, they could potentially do something harmful to their bodies.

“Now, more than ever, access to medically credible, accurate, and non-judgemental educational content is critical. Sexual education systems are failing us, so women are left to navigate the internet rabbit hole for answers to their most pressing health questions.

“While these trends might seem harmless, we know that young people deserve factual information and tools to navigate their own health.”

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‘Groundbreaking’ endometriosis study identifies patient priorities

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A “groundbreaking” study into endometriosis has identified three areas for future research that can help improve the outcomes for women with the condition.

The study, commissioned by Endometriosis New Zealand, attracted 1,262 participants, including 1,024 people with confirmed endometriosis, making it the largest ever study involving endometriosis patients and supporters in New Zealand.

Study participants identified the management and treatment of endometriosis, the need for a better understanding of its cause and improvements to diagnostic capability as the three main priorities for further research.

While these findings provide a clear pathway for future work, Endometriosis New Zealand chief executive, Tanya Cooke, said endometriosis research had historically been underfunded.

“With an estimated 120,000 New Zealanders living with endometriosis, much more needs to be invested into finding solutions,” Cooke explained.

“The reality is the outcomes for many endometriosis patients are pretty poor, with diagnosis often taking many years and treatment patchy across the country.”

Estimates based on Australian data suggest that endometriosis is likely to be costing New Zealand somewhere in the range of $1.3-1.5bn annually through increased healthcare costs and lost workforce productivity.

Cooke said: “The good news is that our findings align closely with those in Australia and provide three clear priorities for future research – improved treatment options, causation and better diagnostic capability.

“What New Zealand now requires is proper funding for a future research programme that can investigate these priorities more closely and improve the outcomes for individuals living with endometriosis.”

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Virtual care platform secures US$46m to address US maternal health crisis

Pomelo Care will use the funding to scale its care model and improve maternal and infant outcomes

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Marta Bralic Kerns, founder and CEO of Pomelo Care

The US virtual maternity care platform Pomelo Care has secured US$46m in funding to address the US maternal health crisis.

One in 10 babies born in the US today start their life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Healthcare access continues to worsen, with one in eight births occurring in US counties with limited-to-no access to maternal care. Due to significant gaps in postpartum care, about half of pregnancy-related deaths in the US occur after hospital discharge.

The evidence exists for how to identify people at highest risk for complications and which interventions are most effective, but existing data gaps and provider capacity challenges make it difficult to apply these interventions at scale.

Pomelo has developed a care model that aims to address these challenges by analysing claims and health record data to identify individual risk factors and providing virtual pregnancy, postpartum, and infant care to patients to reduce those risks.

“We’ve long known what works to reduce maternal and infant complications,” said Marta Bralic Kerns, founder and CEO of Pomelo Care.

“The questions have always been: can you identify the patients who are at highest risk, can you deeply engage them in care to drive uptake of the prevention strategies we know work, and can you do it in the highest risk populations with the most limited access to care?”

“This data demonstrates that we absolutely can. And with this additional funding, we’ll have the opportunity to scale our care model to more pregnant people across the country.”

The funding, led by existing investors First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) Bio + Health, is hoped to help Pomelo accelerate its partnerships with payors across the US and increase access to “evidence-based” care.

Josh Kopelman, partner at First Round Capital and Pomelo board member, said: “It’s rare to come across an opportunity where the incentives between patient, provider and payor are all aligned.

“Marta and the Pomelo team have found an incredible opportunity to dramatically improve outcomes for the highest risk populations, while helping payors reduce their avoidable costs.”

Vineeta Agarwala, general partner at a16z Bio + Health and Pomelo board member, added: “Pomelo is one among a small set of health tech companies that have earned true scale.

“This scale is evident in our partnerships with major Medicaid and commercial plans covering over three million lives, which create the opportunity to collaborate with OB providers, labour and delivery wards, and NICUs nationwide, while serving hundreds of thousands of expecting mothers and newborns with high quality, technology-enabled care.”

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One in three UK fertility patients seek treatment abroad due to high costs

Expensive fertility treatments prompt UK patients to seek help abroad

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One in three fertility patients in the UK seek treatment abroad due to high costs, a new survey has shown.

Fertility Family has gathered insights from 429 UK participants who have experienced difficulties with infertility.

The Infertility Awareness Report found that the high cost of fertility treatment in the UK has driven over one in four people to spend over £10,000 on both treatments and investigative procedures.

The research showed around 35 per cent of people struggling with infertility have considered seeking fertility treatment abroad due to the prospect of lower costs.

Of those seeking fertility treatment in a foreign country, however, only 14 per cent believed that clinics abroad have a higher success rate.

Of those actively trying to conceive almost one in five have used their life savings in the pursuit of having a child, whilst 25 per cent have paid for their fertility treatments using a credit card.

Dr Gill Lockwood, consultant at Fertility Family, said: “While we tend to cast our gaze on women when it comes to infertility, case studies have shown that infertility can impact both women and men in similar ways. However, women have been observed to seek help more than men.

“Although the psychological struggles of infertility can be overwhelming, many patients ultimately reach some type of resolution. Some of the alternatives include becoming parents to a relative’s children, adopting children, or deciding to adopt a child-free lifestyle.

“Needless to say, this resolution is usually psychologically demanding, and patients may feel forever impacted by the experience of infertility.”

A combination of fertility struggles and accessible healthcare have impacted people across the UK significantly, with one in two admitting to feeling “ashamed” due to their difficulties trying to conceive.

A further 31 per cent reported feeling that other people think “less” of them due to their fertility struggles, showcasing the need for better mental health support.

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