Not All Information Is Created Equal When It Comes to Your Health

Evaluating Online Sources of Health Information

Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily
By Roberta H. Anding, MS, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital

If you’re like most Americans, you probably peruse the internet for information on the latest trends in nutrition and fitness. However, some of this information is downright fraudulent. Roberta H. Anding, M.S., shares some credible online sources for health and nutrition.

Couple looking at tablet during breakfast
As Americans have turned from television and magazines to the internet for health and nutrition information, they still seek credible sources and want to avoid fraudulent claims. Photo by HQuality / Shutterstock

Where Do We Get Our Information?

Americans have a love affair with food. We all love food, so there’s no need to deprive ourselves in order to be healthy. Instead, we’re going to work on undoing the confusion by finding reliable sources of health information.

In an ideal world, we’d get our information from our physician, healthcare provider, or registered dietician, but that’s generally not where Americans get their information. 

An American Dietetic Association trend study suggests that since 2002, television has actually decreased in popularity as a source of information on nutrition, from 72 percent to 63 percent. Overall, perceived credibility of television is about 14 percent. 

“I’m the media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, and one of the challenges is that when someone wants to interview you on television, they want you to say their sound bites,” Professor Anding said. “I think the challenge is that the information that we often get on television is snippets of nutrition—something that’s quick and easy—not something that’s going to be necessarily factually true.”

Magazines represent another source, and they’re down in popularity from about 58 percent to 45 percent. The perceived credibility of magazine nutrition information is about 25 percent. It’s actually greater than TV because that includes some of the national news magazines that do in-depth explorations on nutrition topics. 

Newspapers have suffered the most significant decline in popularity, from 33 percent to 19 percent. However, this doesn’t include online newspaper subscriptions.

Finally, the internet has increased in popularity from 13 percent in 2002 to 24 percent today, so therein lies the challenge. In this electronic age, we’re going to the internet to get nutrition information. 

In fact, for adolescents, their number one source of nutrition information is the internet. This proves that traditional media outlets are losing popularity in favor of their electronic counterparts.

Perceived credibility is approximately 22 percent, a similar percentage to magazines, but in reality, the internet has the widest variability of information, from excellent to flat-out fraudulent. This variability makes it challenging to evaluate the information.

Credible Websites for Health Information

Thankfully, credible websites and sources of nutritional education do exist. One great resource is the American Dietetic Association. It provides nutrition tips of the day as well as handouts and information on functional foods and dieting tips. 

Additionally, this website provides reviews of diet books. These reviews help you to separate the legitimate diets from unsustainable (and sometimes, even harmful) fad diets, and some of them might surprise you.

When it comes to fitness information, check out the American College of Sports Medicine. If you want to find out whether or not the latest trend that a trainer is telling you about is valid, you can often find reviews. Furthermore, you can learn what exercise precautions you need to follow if you take multiple medications for a chronic condition. 

The federal government also has a host of nutrition and activity websites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides solid, reliable information for managing conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and obesity. They also have a BMI calculator, which is a way of measuring your height in relation to your weight and determining whether or not your weight is healthy. 

The Food and Drug Administration gives you the latest updates on recall information in contaminated food outbreaks. You can also find consumer warnings about nutrition supplements, diet products, and more. 

Finally, the food and nutrition information center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides dietary guidelines for Americans and general information on the current state of the science related to food and nutrition. This website also provides information on government-sponsored nutrition programs for low-income families.

You can turn to any of these websites when looking for reliable sources of health information. Please keep in mind, though, that you should always consult with your physician before starting any new diet or exercise program. 

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.

Professor Roberta H. Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She also teaches and lectures in the Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine, and in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University.