The internet has made access to information so convenient that we can literally have all of the world’s knowledge at our fingertips.
Whenever we want to know more about something new or unknown, the first thing we do is look it up online. This is even true for health-related information. Whether an ongoing health trend, medicine, food, a disease condition or even a product that we intend to buy, all we need to do is type the word and hit a button.
While this has meant that a plethora of information is now readily available, it has also led to misinformation running rampant. This becomes an especially problematic situation when it comes to health-related content. Anyone without medical, nutritional or scientific expertise can fuel the spread of unreliable information that, at best, leads to no results and, at worst, can be damaging to our health.
So, what’s the solution? Well, we may not be able to shield ourselves from online misinformation, but we can teach ourselves how to identify information that is fact-based and credible.
Here are a few things we can look for:
1. The platform
Where are you receiving the information? On a scale of 1-10, how close to the actual source of the information would you place it?
It’s quite evident that a Whatsapp forward that’s been ‘forwarded many times’, with no links and just hearsay (“Famous Dr. X has been quoted saying Y”) can be placed on the 'decidedly less trustworthy' side of the scale.
If you’re already keeping a keen eye out for the accuracy of the information you read, you probably already recognise the more credible platforms. If not, here are some we can vouch for: CDC, WHO, Linus Pauling, Harvard Health, Healthline, Very Well, Science Daily and ICMR-NIN.
2. The designation of the author
Even a well-meaning author who does their research may not be able to publish scientifically accurate information, simply because they don’t have the training to make the distinction. If you can, try to find the author’s name, title and background to understand whether they have the expertise to render them more credibility.
3. A supporting document or link
If any piece of information claims to be from an official source, ask for the original document or link where this information came from. To be absolutely certain, you can also crosscheck any logos or branded assets on the files that are shared to make sure they’re true to the original.
4. The references they’ve used
The formatting of the reference is a great indicator of how committed the information is to providing all details of the source.
A typical reference should look something like this:
Author Name(s). Journal (Year); Issue (volume): Page Numbers .
5. The studies themselves
Any advice that’s aimed at delivering certain health benefits or talks about the health effects of a substance (especially in the context of preventing or curing a medical condition), should be supported by a scientific study or clinical evidence.
It’s a good idea to click on the studies that have been linked to, or visit PubMed from the National Library of Medicine. While you’re there, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:
- Check the sample size: make sure there were at least 30 subjects who were studied - if not, this should be acknowledged by the writer. It does not render the study baseless, but can be considered as a proof of concept, with more studies required to confirm the findings.
- Check the date: is it a recent study, or a really old one? This matters because an old study could be outdated, and an ongoing study may be incomplete - both of which affect the accuracy of the information.
- When in doubt, see the actual results found by the study by checking the reference. An easy way is to read the overview/abstract of the study to get an overall idea of what it found.
6. The tone of the information
Anything that’s intended to educate or be factually informative should simply relay the facts in a neutral, objective manner, with a measured tone.
Look out for articles that are:
a. Over-the-top in their messaging
“Science finds a magical cure to weight loss!” - a statement like that’s generally a sign of the information being biased and/or exaggerated for the sake of gaining eyeballs.
b. Full of superfluous technical jargon
Counterintuitively, the more complicated-sounding the information is, the more cause there is to put on your skeptical hat. Recurring technical jargon that’s unexplained, yet written for a layperson, could be an attempt to sound impressive while confusing the reader, instead of actually educating them.
Keeping those last three words in mind is probably the final consideration to be made when you’re reading some information - is it actually trying to educate you, or do you discern a hidden agenda? It’s true that, as a brand, we ourselves do sell supplements - so we don’t blame anyone for being a bit skeptical when you read a related health article on our blog (we actually encourage that you do this in your own interest!). But that’s where learning how to distinguish between clinically-validated information versus propaganda comes in. And we hope that this article has helped you get a headstart :)
If you have any queries, feel free to drop a comment below, we’d love to answer them for you. Till then, stay curious and stay healthy!