May 24, 2019  

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Get Your Facts Straight: Tips for Determining Whether or Not Health Information is Accurate

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In a world where we have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, we are able to diagnose ourselves with a life threating disease with the click of a few buttons and cure it with a few more.   Health is a topic that plays a part of all of our lives in some way which is probably why there is a constant stream of new information available online and in magazines every day.  Unless you still believe that strapping some electrodes to your abs will give you a six pack while you sit, your common sense probably tells you that a lot of what you read and hear is false.  However, a lot of information out there seems legitimate but is inaccurate.  How do you tell whether or not the health information you receive is accurate?  Ask yourself a few questions:

Where did it come from?

Make sure the source is a credible website, magazine, or journal.  Most magazines are written for the purpose to entertain and sell products.  A medical or health journal from an accredited agency would be a more accurate source of information.  If a magazine cites it’s sources for information and/or provides articles from professionals in the field, the information is more likely to be accurate.
As for the internet, anyone can start a website and create information to put on it.  A key to a credible website can be found in the last three letters of it’s address.  Below is a guide to who funds which type of websites.

  • .gov identifies a government agency
  • .edu identifies an educational institution
  • .org identifies professional organizations (e.g., scientific or research societies, advocacy groups)
  • .com identifies commercial websites (e.g., businesses, pharmaceutical companies, sometimes hospitals)

The first three are generally reliable sources.  A “.com” website may need further investigation to whether or not the information is accurate.

Who wrote it?

Is the author listed?  If not, that’s a major red flag.  If it is, what are their credentials?  Do they have the proper education and training to provide you with the information they do?  If a reporter has written or provided the information did they cite where they got the information and, was it from a professional?  Also, make sure the credentials a person has given are legitimate.  There are so many short online courses that will provide people with certifications on almost any topic.  For example, do you know the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian?  A dietician has to get a degree in nutrition and dietetics from an accredited university and meet standards set by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  A nutritionist is a non-accredited title that may apply to somebody who has done a short course in nutrition or just given themselves this title.

What was their motive?

Does the person providing the information have a motive other than to educate?  Are they selling a product?  Is the information in a magazine or a t.v. show that’s purpose is to entertain?  These are more red flags that the information may be biased, twisted a little bit or completely inaccurate.  I often see outrageous claims given by medical professionals on commercials and talk shows (Including doctors who host their own talk shows).  Try to remember, quick fixes and outrageous information draws in viewers. Even someone with the proper credentials will provide misinformation if they can gain from it. Information from sources with their own agenda may require you to do a little more educated research.

Besides your source, it’s also important to consider the date of your information.  New studies and research are constantly being performed.  Make sure your information is the most updated.

My final tip to being a good consumer of health information is to get more than one source of information.  Make sure your information is consistent across the board with health care professionals in the same field. 

Hopefully, this will help you in deciphering accurate information from quackery.  It’s always a good idea to talk to a medical or health care professional in person to clear up any health related concerns you may be having.