Our new Good Questions for Good Health series is dedicated to helping you take on the challenge to be more informed about your health and healthcare. We kick off the series by discussing some of the ways in which you can identify unreliable health news.
Very important – please start by reading the article “Let’s talk: Does detox really work?” in Issue 19 (download here) of ZASA Magazine (April 2017) to understand the context of this post, it is supplementary material. The magazine is free.
The Benefit of Knowing
Being well informed about your health can have tremendous benefits. If you are suffering from a chronic illness, knowing more about your condition and health options may help improve your health and quality of life. It also allows you to avoid complications associated with certain illnesses. Above all, it allows you to take part in your healthcare. But how do you discern good health news? With a flood of made up news, more especially on social media, how do you know which information is trustworthy?
Weighing your Options
Identifying reliable health news can be challenging, even for health journalists. Here are a few tips you may consider:
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The most shared articles online are those about cures and new ‘miracle drugs.’ The honest truth is that sex sells, drama sells and the word ‘cure’ attracts the masses. Be careful with such headlines. A study by the Independent and the Guardian newspapers in the UK found that half of the most shared articles last year were unreliable.
- Reputation. Reputation. If the source is not reputable, it has nothing to lose. Find out more about the authors of the article. What are their qualifications? How often do they write about health? There are a number of reputable sources out there. The BBC, WebMD, National Health Service, PubMed, Health24 and the Centre for Disease and Prevention are a few that you may consider.
- Take caution if the article is tied to a product or service. Some of these articles are merely advertising scams. A number of health articles may be tied to a product or service whereby the authors may be entitled to a percentage on the sale of certain health products or services.
- Always consult. Do not trust any health claims you read online without consulting your doctor or health provider. Avoid making any health decisions based on anything you read online, instead, understand the information, ask good questions and seek professional advice.
Steven Nonde, BSc, Biomedicine.