In the age of content farms and advertorial marketing, finding reputable online health information takes extra work. The first-page results from Google or Bing reflect paid ads more than true facts, and vendors have their own agendas when it comes to promoting their products. To find reputable health information you can trust, you need to read carefully, search for original sources, and consider the background of any study you read.
First and foremost, read all information carefully. Be able to say when the information was published, what populations it covers, and whether or not the information has been verified by a second source. Many online health “facts” are decades out of date, apply to very limited populations, or haven’t been vetted by the scientific community. By reading the page carefully, you should be able to gauge the reliability of the author and the data in the article. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, too – many online publications include footnotes linking back to original source material or additional information about the author behind the study to give you a reference on the quality of the information.
These reference links are your first guide in uncovering the original source material for health information online. Sites like LiveStrong, About.com, WebMD, and even Wikipedia will point you back to original studies and scientific journals so you can do your own due diligence. Many times you will find that writers “shape” the data in the original studies, lift quotes out of context, or otherwise slant the perception of the true facts. To find the truth and make an informed judgment about health information online, you need to be able to look back at the original studies that were conducted.
As you look at original studies, consider the background of the study. Who paid for the research? Who conducted the research? Where was the study ultimately published. For example, if the National Institute of Health paid for the research to be conducted by leading genetic researchers and the final work was published in a well-respected journal, you can trust that information. If a large sportswear company paid for a survey to be held in a mall and published the results in a gossip magazine, then you probably shouldn’t make critical health decisions based on that information.
If you prefer to short cut a general search for reputable online health information, head straight for health directories. Excellent resources are available from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the health councils of each individual government (Britain and Australia have particularly good online health databases). PubMed, run by the National Institute of Health, is also home to more than 21 million online journal studies. Visiting advocacy sites, such as the American Cancer Society or American Heart Association pages, is also useful as long as you remember that they filter their data through their own lenses of interest.
It is possible to find reputable online health information if you are willing to look deeper than Page One results. Consider the source of each “fact” you see and dig until you get to the original, peer-reviewed studies. In this way, you can avoid misleading health information or marketing lies, leaving you better informed and healthier than ever.