Health information is everywhere. Not only is it becoming easier to access health resources, it is also becoming easier to create them. “Health experts” are establishing themselves in more and more places, from blogs to talk shows to books. When they reference scientific studies or have a devoted public following, their health messages seem credible. However, they may not be as trustworthy as they appear.
In order to protect yourself from misleading and potentially dangerous health claims, consider whether the resource is credible. While many people are familiar with checking website addresses to see if they are reputable – for instance, those ending in “.gov” and “.edu” are generally safe – other criteria should be considered as well.
Credentials. Investigate the type of training a person went through to earn their credential before accepting their health advice. For instance, a physician and a person with a PhD in Art History are both doctors, but only one of them was required to go through health training. Health coach and nutrition certifications can pose a grey area as well: While some require in-depth education and supervised training, others are awarded after a brief home-study course.
Hidden agendas. Consider whether the information source has a conflict of interest. If the author or organization exists to sell a health product, they may make exaggerated claims or hide risky side effects. It is wise to crosscheck their accuracy against reputable health information resources, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
References. A quality health resource usually references studies from respected sources, such as peer-reviewed scientific journals and government health organizations. Be skeptical of those that only offer endorsements from celebrities and “people like you.”
Red flags. If a health product sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Anytime a health idea is promoted as “miraculous,” “quick and easy,” or “kept secret by the establishment,” be extra cautious. These claims can be especially dangerous when they are used to sell weight loss products. Meaningful health improvements result from long-term commitments to healthy lifestyle habits.
Common sense. A lot of good health information is tried-and-true: Eat your vegetables. Be physically active. Don’t use tobacco. If someone is spreading health advice that goes against common sense, it is especially important to evaluate its credibility.
Shelley Worley – Health Educator, Summit County Health Department
650 Round Valley Drive, Park City, UT 84060
Phone: 435-333-1507 Fax: 435-333-1580