Says Who? How to Read Health Info on the Internet

by Skye Dawson
How to Read Health Info on the Internet

Ok, so this dude who writes some health blog has been going on about putting, like, butter in your coffee? And the people in the forums say, of course it makes sense, but when you follow the links it just takes you to this other dude who started going on about putting butter in your coffee first.

So you ask the Internet for journal articles and you find something from 1975 about research on the Inuits… but you’re not sure what conclusion they came to.

Then some guy on Reddit says that toxins in mass-produced coffee are so variable that you’d be a fool to drink anything you didn’t hand roast yourself, butter or no.

So you take to the Internet again to see if he’s right…

Sigh.

Used to be that all you had to do to be healthy was eat your veggies and refrain from drinking bottles with a skull and crossbones on the label. Today, every brand of snake oil has its own cult-like following, 37,000 blog posts and internet fitness celebrities weighing in on its nutritional value.

Cutting through the bullshit

Rather than add my own voice to the fray, I want to stop and take a minute to look at the smartest way to take in this kind of info… and how to spot and get rid of crap when you find it.

  • Laugh in the face of the “90%” statistic. No, 90% of diets do not fail. What does that even mean? Nobody knows. Be all like, “Pics or it didn’t happen” when someone on Facebook posts shit like, “98% of dairy cows have cancer.”
  • Look for the money, specifically, who’s paying for that nutritional product. You may have to look for a while, but be suspicious of anything done by someone who stands to gain financially from you believing whatever they just said.
  • Are you just in a big ol’ echo chamber? The circle may be big, but a lot of “facts” are just people referencing each other in a loop.
  • Use peer-reviewed, current, large sampled and properly controlled scientific studies as your gold standard. Some chick who says that she “felt amazing” drinking coconut oil does not constitute evidence.
  • When doing your research, don’t ask Google, “Is butter in your coffee healthy?” because chances are you’ll just uncover millions of hits that tell you it is. Instead, deliberately search for contradictory or opposing opinions and then make your decision when you have a balanced mix of information.
  • You don’t have to decide. It’s better to say “I don’t know” than go along with whatever you wish were true. If the research is inconclusive, stay open-minded.
  • Look out for info that’s pushed in an emotional way. If the best thing some idea has going for it is that it makes you feel things, it’s probably a little light on the facts.

It’s wild out there, and the Internet has sadly made it possible for any bone-headed idea to propagate, find its fans and take up space. The best you can do is make sure you’re not jumping on any bandwagons and taking a hard line with anything claiming to be health and fitness gospel.

Do you believe everything you read? How do you separate the bullshit from the facts?

What to do now?

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