Fake Health News: How to Know Who You Can Trust
I was shopping for vitamins recently and the young man who worked in the store asked me how I knew to take vitamin D. While I was trying to remember how I knew vitamin D is important, he said, “probably heard about it on the internet, right?”
Um, maybe. But (and this is a big BUT) if I did, I first checked the information against a reliable source online. And then I asked my doctor if it was okay for me.
Who can you trust?
As a health writer, I have a pretty good idea where I can find good information. But I know it can be really confusing out there. So much information and misinformation is shared at the office water cooler or on social media where fact-checking is hardly routine.
So, next time your cousin Susie shares an article on Facebook claiming cherry juice alleviates arthritis pain, here’s how to know if Susie really knows what she’s talking about.
How do I know if it’s good information?
Reliable health information is:
- Research-based: It contains facts that are confirmed or supported by scientific studies.
- Peer-reviewed: It’s written by qualified experts and reviewed by other qualified experts.
- Clear: The information is presented in a way the average reader can understand.
Look at the website’s address for a clue
One way to determine if you are looking at a reliable site is the suffix on the site’s URL or address.
Commercial sites use .com
These sites largely promote something they are selling or generate revenue through advertising. For that reason, you should generally double check anything you read on them.
One exception is WebMD.com. WebMD is HAP’s partner on our iStrive® for Better Health digital wellness manager. Their content is all reviewed by medical experts and it is a good resource for basic information on many health topics.
If you’re a HAP member, log in at hap.org and click on My Health and Wellness for access to the iStrive for Better Health digital wellness manager.
Government sites use .gov
The Department of Health and Human Services is the U.S. government agency dedicated to protecting and improving the health of Americans. Within it are many agencies with different missions. Some of them have websites rich in useful health information, including:
- The National Institute for Health is one of the world’s foremost research centers. Its website is an excellent place to find highly readable health resources on all topics, as well as the studies that support that information. If you want to know if your cousin’s cherry juice remedy is really a thing, you might start by checking here. Visit nih.gov.
- The Center for Disease Control is tasked with the mission of protecting us against current health threats, such as disease outbreaks. Its website contains information on diseases, outbreak updates, seasonal health tips, travel health advisories and more. If you hear a rumor about a terrible new strain of flu, this is the place to get the facts. Visit cdc.gov.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration works to address mental health and substance abuse. Its website is an excellent source of information and resources for finding help. Visit samhsa.gov.
Non-profit organizations use .org
Many non-profit organizations work on advocacy, research, patient support and wellness initiatives for specific health challenges. Their websites have current research and treatment information. They often list numerous resources for patients and families. And many of them have condition-specific lifestyle tips.
- American Heart Association: heart.org
- American Lung Association: lung.org
- Arthritis Foundation: arthritis.org
Educational institutions use .edu
University programs that focus on health often have websites that present useful health information. The Harvard School of Public Health is a great example. Its Nutrition Source site covers topics from almonds to an analysis of common diets.
Check your alma mater to see what they have online.
Back to cousin Susie’s cherry juice remedy
In case you’re wondering if Susie was right about that cherry juice, she is. Studies have shown that cherries are chock-full of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are the pigments found in red and purple fruits. They have both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. But don’t take our word for it. Read about them for yourself in Best Fruits for Arthritis on arthritis.org.