Intended for healthcare professionals


Marketing empowerment: how corporations co-opt feminist narratives to promote non-evidence based health interventions

51app 2024; 384 doi: (Published 14 February 2024) Cite this as: 51app 2024;384:e076710

Linked Editorial

Commercial co-opting of feminist health narratives

  1. Tessa Copp, research fellow12,
  2. Kristen Pickles, research fellow12,
  3. Jenna Smith, research fellow12,
  4. Jolyn Hersch, research fellow12,
  5. Minna Johansson, director3,
  6. Jenny Doust, professor4,
  7. Shannon McKinn, research fellow1,
  8. Sweekriti Sharma, research fellow125,
  9. Leah Hardiman, consumer representative for women’s and newborns’ health6,
  10. Brooke Nickel, research fellow12
  1. 1Sydney Health Literacy Lab, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
  2. 2Wiser Healthcare, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
  3. 3Global Center for Sustainable Healthcare, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
  4. 4Australian Women and Girls’ Health 51app Centre, School of Public Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
  5. 5Institute for Musculoskeletal Health, Sydney Local Health District, Sydney, Australia
  6. 6Public representative, Brisbane, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: B Nickel brooke.nickel{at}sydney.edu.au

Promotion of non-evidence based tests and treatments using empowerment messages risks women being overdiagnosed and overtreated, argue Tessa Copp and colleagues

Commercial organisations have an extraordinary influence on population health through how they engage with and shape social movements to market their products.1 Corporations have historically exploited health agendas by prioritising messaging about female autonomy to encourage women’s consumption of unhealthy commodities, such as tobacco and alcohol.2 This phenomenon has now expanded across women’s health. Feminist narratives of increasing women’s autonomy and empowerment regarding their healthcare, which first arose through early women’s health movements,34 are now increasingly adopted by commercial entities to market new interventions (technologies, tests, treatments) that lack robust evidence or ignore the evidence that is available.

Increased awareness and advocacy in women’s health are vital to overcome sex inequalities in healthcare, including the need for improved resources for under-researched conditions and to reverse historical biases that prevent optimal treatments for women. However, promoting healthcare interventions that are not supported by evidence, or while concealing or downplaying evidence, increases the risk of harm to women through inappropriate medicalisation, overdiagnosis, and overtreatment.

Importantly, the problem is not with the use of health technologies, tests, and treatments per se, as many women benefit greatly and gain improved quality of life from them. The problem lies in the way commercial marketing and advocacy efforts push such interventions to a much larger group of women than is likely to benefit without being explicit about their limitations (box 1). In addition, commercial use of feminist narratives to promote interventions gives the impression health and sex equality are commodities that can be bought (by those who can afford it), without acknowledging the social structures and other intersecting causes of disadvantage. We discuss two current examples, the anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) test …

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