Junkfood Science: Information is power — what you need to know about the newest source of your health information

December 17, 2007

Information is power — what you need to know about the newest source of your health information

There is a major new provider of health information for you, your employer and healthcare provider. An introduction is warranted.

Currently, the top provider of online health information is WebMD Health. Just its top five websites had 19.9 million unique visitors in October, according to ComScore Media Metrix. As JFS has reported, WebMD — owns and operates WebMD Health, Medscape, MedicineNet, e-Medicine, e-Medicine Health, RxList and theheart.org — and supplies the financial technology and health information applications for large employers, the pharmaceutical industry, health plans and financial institutions. It also provides personal health records to more than 90 large employers, pharmaceutical companies and health plans (Aetna, Cigna and Wellpoint); was awarded the government contract last summer to develop personal health records for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services using its claims data; has a Weight Loss Clinic and produces obesity materials in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic.

Revolution Health was founded in 2005 by AOL co-founder Steve Case. It’s part of the Revolution.com network offering online financial, “healthy and sustainable living,” and health services. Under their Living division, their focus is on helping people achieve “life in balance” and “live happy and fulfilled” and includes selling a spa and national car-sharing service for travelers. Revolution Money includes high-interest credit cards and online payment transaction services.

Revolution Health is their health portal. It was in the news this past week when it acquired HealthTalk and SparkPeople, as it attempts to take the corner on the online health market. According to Mr. Case, Revolution Health Network will now be the “second largest health property on the Internet, generating more page views than MayoClinic, EverydayHealth, Yahoo! Health, iVillage Total Health and RealAge combined.”

Revolution Health was also a key speaker and participant in the 3rd Annual World Healthcare Innovation & Technology Congress held last week, working towards nationalized electronic health records that will allow the collection and sharing of our health assessments, pharmaceutical and laboratory records, and medical records, as reviewed here.

SparkPeople, which just joined Revolution Health, is a diet site that is one of the largest social networking diet support groups, helping people to reach their weight loss goals. According to its press release, the site has grown to more than 2.1 million unique users a month.

Healthtalk is an online “wellness” company with more than a million unique visitors a month, along with half a million subscribers who receive targeted online information. HealthTalk, also provides medical information and podcasts for providers.This acquisition will bring additional health management content and interactive programing to Revolution Health, said Mr. Case.

There is more to know about Revolution Health. This knowledge can help consumers decide if they can trust the health information provided by Revolution Health to be objective.

Revolution Health is actually RediClinic, a national network of retail healthcare clinics. It also owns Extended Benefits and ConnectYourCare. RediClinics market to insurers and employers to offer low-cost routine healthcare and camp or school physicals, and preventive health screenings using the most popular blood tests, with packages like “StayWell—Take Charge of Your Health.” The centers are staffed by nurse practitioners and also offer prescriptions for “appropriate medications.”

There’s also an online Revolution Health and Drug Store, selling diet aids, vitamins and supplements, natural foods and herbs, beauty and skin care products, exercise equipment, and more.

ConnectYourCare administers online health risk assessments, Health Savings Accounts, Health Reimbursement Arrangements, and Flexible Spending Accounts for its partners: employers, health plans and financial institutions. The platform also includes “a smart healthcare payment card,” online account management, health education tools, and an advanced claims substantiation system. “ConnectYourCare provides employers outsourced account administration that helps control healthcare benefits costs while increasing employee awareness of and responsibility for managing healthcare spending. ConnectYourCare's platform reduces both employer and employee costs.” Employers can also purchase “health behavior change management with its Wellness=Wealth communications toolkit.”

“Express Scripts, Inc. is one of the largest PBM [pharmacy benefit management] companies in North America, providing services to over 50 million members. Express Scripts serves thousands of client groups, including managed-care organizations, insurance carriers, employers, third-party administrators, public sector, and union-sponsored benefit plans.”

JFS readers are no doubt exclaiming: “Oh!”

Combine online health risk assessments and screenings, targeted preventive health “information,” networked electronic health records, “wellness” programs and cost-driven managed care, with diet programs and PBMs and there's a potential bias in medicalizing health indices that ‘need’ prescriptions and weight loss interventions.

The health information is predictable and targeted to encourage buy-in to what Revolution Health is selling. Today, for example, we can read the special feature on childhood obesity, called “Project PACT,” offered by Revolution Health. Among the popularized beliefs, we’re told childhood obesity is “one of the nation's biggest health problems,” a skyrocketing epidemic and predicted to increase risks of health problems. The solution is “to team up with Revolution Health” and follow a four-step healthy lifestyle and weight loss program to “lead your child on a path towards a happier, healthier, thinner and more fulfilling life.”

They provide no evidence in support for these claims or for their program ... because there is none. According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, there have been no significant increases in the numbers of U.S. children considered “overweight” since 1999-2000. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, Health United States, 2007, examining more than 150 health indice tables from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, reported children today are healthier than ever and expected to live longer than at any time in our history. Compared to babies born in 1990, boys today are expected to live 3.4 years longer and girls 1.6 years longer. Nor is there any evidence to support that childhood “overweight” or “obesity” is related to health outcomes, concluded the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force after a comprehensive review of 40 years of evidence on childhood obesity screening and interventions.

The USPSTF also concluded that there was no evidence that any intervention to reduce or prevent childhood obesity — no matter how well-intentioned, comprehensive, restrictive, intensive, long in duration, and tackling diet and activity in every possible way — has been effective in the long run. Nor has any intervention been able to demonstrate improved health outcomes or physiological measures, such as blood lipids (“cholesterol”), glucose tolerance, blood pressure or physical fitness. Childhood obesity interventions, however, do risk harming children, they warned.

Nowhere in the Revolution Health special feature was there any mention that their childhood obesity interventions have no evidence for effectiveness nor that they are potentially harmful.

Armed with a better understanding of where our health information is coming from can help us look at it more carefully.

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