RealAge has become an Internet sensation by using the results of its 150 question test to assign participants a “biological age” and provide tips about how to improve health and well being.
Typical advice includes flossing your teeth, wearing seatbelts, eating breakfast and taking multivitamins.
The company claims that 27 million people have taken the test, a third of whom have signed on to become RealAge members.
Not all members are aware, however, that Big Pharma pays RealAge to analyze their test results and email promotional messages on its behalf.
Would these people fill out a similarly detailed questionnaire for a drug company?
RealAge has gained popularity in no small part because physician-celebrity Mehmet Oz talks up the program during his gig on Oprah, where he’s known as “America’s Doctor.”
It’s not clear how much the good Dr. Oz is paid for his plugs.
While taking the RealAge test, people are asked to become RealAge members. It costs nothing and requires only that people provide an email address. Enrollees’ test results go straight into a marketing database.
RealAge customers include GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Pfizer. They pay RealAge to identify subpopulations of the membership that are good candidates for one drug or another in their quiver based on certain answer combinations from the 150 question test.
RealAge then distributes promotional emails to the target group.
“If you want to reach males over 60 that (have) high blood pressure in northwest Buffalo that also have a high risk of diabetes, you could,” RealAge VP Andy Mikulak boasted to the New York Times.
“Millions of people have unknowingly signed up,” said Peter Lurie, the deputy director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen.
RealAge was acquired for $60 million by Hearst Magazines in 2007 when it was doing $20 million in revenue.