When Instagram celebs are paid to shill sham science

Well-paid influencers have been hawking a scammy at-home blood test. Turns out, the $490 kit doesn't do much of anything.

In the murky world of pay-to-play Instagram influencer marketing, it’s no great shocker that “wellness” purveyors with tenuous, unverifiable benefits have found purchase. Case in point: Pinnertest, a pricey “food intolerance” blood test (with a name just a little too similar to Pinterest to be accidental). The product the company is peddling lives in that gray zone of unproven health claims—namely, a $490 test can assess your intolerance to more than 200 foods. Vegetables might be killing you!

This week, Buzzfeed News pulled back the curtain on this flimflammery, revealing a squad of B- (also C- and D-) list Instagram celebs who’ve been paid to endorse Pinnertest. Most of these influencers are famous-for-being-famous types, like Jonathan Cheban (aka Foodgōd), who allegedly received $5,000 from Pinnertest for his now-deleted post. “Since I stopped eating the foods that I am intolerant to 3 months ago I’ve lost weight by removing those foods and I’ve also gotten more energy,” he wrote, according to a screenshot grabbed by Buzzfeed.


Buzzfeed had already done some Pinnertest debunking a few weeks ago, after none other than Mario Lopez shilled the tests to nearly one million followers. “Healthy known foods can make you sick,” Lopez wrote, the kind of fear mongering which is at the core of Pinnertest’s claims. Numerous scientists who reviewed the product found that, while it is a standard diagnostic blood test, the results tell nothing about our food intolerances.

The latest dust-up focuses less on the bogus science than the Wild West of sketchy Instagram marketing. A recent study found that the top 50 most famous Instagrammers were almost universally breaking the FTC rules of disclosure. In essence, if it’s a paid post, it needs to be hashtagged #ad or #sponsored. Lopez followed the rules, but many other Pinnertest pushers have not been so scrupulous. Cheban, as well as actually-famous Lindsay Lohan, posted photos where they seemed to love Pinnertest in a no-cash-exchanged kind of way. The FTC sent out letters to Pinnertest and others, specifically calling out Lohan’s post as what not to do.

Buzzfeed’s story is filled with sharp little digs on influencer culture and healthy-living charlatans—it’s a worthy read. Shockingly, the Pinnertest company isn’t too happy with their portrayal. “We are preparing over 20.000 pages of study for the lawsuit. No worries. You will read them all,” a spokesman emailed Buzzfeed. No worries!

Jesse Hirsch is The Counter's managing editor. Before he joined the team, he was an investigative food editor at Consumer Reports. His stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, VICE, Eater, and The Guardian.