Online Health information: What can I trust?

 Created by Rachel Raymond, Dietetic Intern

There are thousands of websites, online magazines, and social media posts focused on health. Some provide reliable information while others do not. With all of the information floating around on the internet, it’s important to know which websites you can trust. Follow the steps below to learn how to choose the most accurate websites that you can rely on.

1.     Check who sponsors the website.

 Knowing who or which company is funding a website will help you to know if the website is reliable or not. If a website is funded by the government, then it’s likely a reliable source of information. Sometimes the URL may even tell you who sponsors the website. For example, websites ending in:

  • .gov show that the website is sponsored by a U.S. government agency
  • .edu show that the website is an educational institution such as a school or university
  • .org usually shows that the website is run by a non-profit organization such as a professional group, scientific, medical or research society, or an advocacy group[1]
  • .com is the most common type of website and usually identifies a business, blog, pharmaceutical company or even a hospital

2.     Look for who wrote the information and whether or not it was reviewed.

 Sometimes an author is listed at the top of a webpage. Check to see if the author is an expert in a specific field and if he or she works for a specific organization. Sometimes organizations have goals that drive what authors say, so check the organization that he or she is backing. Sometimes a note written under the author’s name will reveal if and when the post was reviewed and by whom it was reviewed. For example, if the author is writing for a company that sells a diet pill, it’s likely that he or she is biased or paid to make certain claims.

Hence, the author often helps us know if a webpage is reliable or not. If a website is run solely by one person who does not cite research to back his or her claims, then it’s probably not worth relying on. 

3.     Search for an “About Us” page

This isn’t always a sign of a trustworthy website, but reliable websites will always have an “About Us” page to show what the organization or company stands for. It will tell you why the site was created and what the goal of the website is. A website created to sell a product or share someone’s personal opinion or experiences may not be what you base your health decisions off of. A website made to share scientific evidence will have much more reliability.

4.     Spot the date that the article was written or published

 If you’re looking for current, evidence-based advice, then finding a recent date will be most reliable. A webpage written in year 1999 is often not going to be as accurate as something written more recently. Dates are usually listed at the bottom of the webpage. Check the date to see how recent the health information has been shared.

5.     See if there is a privacy policy listed or if the website uses “cookies”

 A privacy policy is usually listed at the bottom of a webpage. Good sources of information usually have a privacy policy and do not use “cookies” to track your data. It’s a great idea to read those policies to know if your information is protected. If a website says it uses “cookies,” then it means your information may not be kept private.

6.     Ask yourself if it sounds too good to be true.

 There are many people out there looking to scam others for money with incredible yet false health claims. Be weary of these claims and websites. If a post claims a new “miracle cure,” don’t fall for it.

7.     Look for sources/citations backing the information stated.

 This step is key to finding the best health data. Anyone can create a website nowadays and make posts with information that may seem legitimate. Make sure to check for footnotes or citations that link you to original research. This will help you to see if the claims stated are true or false.  

Conclusion

 There is a lot of misinformation out there, but there is a lot of quality information as well. Be sure to go through the steps above to know if you can trust a website. Above all though, if you are experiencing serious medical problems, don’t rely on the internet to find your cure. We recommend seeing a doctor or other health professional who can give you the proper advice and treatment.

A few quality, reliable health websites:

Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

www.EatRight.org

American Diabetes Association

www.diabetes.org

American Heart Association

www.heart.org

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

www.cdc.gov

Mayo Clinic

www.Mayoclinic.org

Medline Plus

www.medlineplus.gov

U.S. Department of Agriculture

www.ChooseMyPlate.gov


[1] Online Health Information: Is It Reliable? (2018). National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/online-health-information-it-reliable

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