Spent much time in cyberspace lately? If so, you’ve probably realized that health and nutrition information is readily available on the Web. Today, information on disease prevention, healthful eating, the latest fad diet or the number of calories in a chocolate chip cookie is all just a mouse-click away.
Yet, while having a wealth of nutrition information at your fingertips can be very useful, consumers do need to be aware that, like any media outlet, the Web also contains misinformation. To determine if a Web site is credible, the American Dietetic Association advises consumers to ask themselves the following questions.
- Who is the sponsor or owner of the Web site? In general, Web sites that end in .edu (meaning an educational institution) or .gov (meaning government agencies) tend to be among the most credible Web sites. Web sites ending in .org (meaning organizations, often nonprofit) also can be a good source of information along with some sites ending in .com (meaning commercial sites). The key is to be a savvy consumer. If in doubt, ask a registered dietitian or other health care provider to help you evaluate a Web site before you put too much value on the information it provides.
- Who are the contributors or authors of the information posted on the Web site? Remember, credible information comes from qualified nutrition experts. Look for credentials such as RD (registered dietitian) or MD and affiliations with nationally known health organizations such as the American Dietetic Association, or ADA; the American Medical Association, or AMA; or the American Heart Association, or AHA.
- Is the information factual with cited references, rather than opinion based? Look for information supported by established scientific findings that includes a list of references or links to the scientific studies or other data mentioned in the article.
- Does the information have an educational purpose? If the Web site is promotional based, there is a good chance that the information may be biased. Be on the lookout for charlatans selling products and cures with unfounded health benefits and possibly dangerous side effects.
- Are there regular updates and postings? Reliable Web sites should be regularly updated to reflect the most current nutrition information and advice available. Keep in mind that being current doesn’t necessarily mean it’s accurate.
By using a little common sense, consumers can find reliable nutrition information on the Internet. Following are several reputable sites to get started with.
- www.ext.colostate.edu/menufood.html – sponsored by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.
- www.healthfinder.gov – sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- www.nal.usda.gov/fnic – sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Information Center and a good place to find out about the nutrients in foods.
- www.eatright.org – sponsored by the American Dietetic Association.
- www.americanheart.org – sponsored by the American Heart Association.
- www.cancer.org – sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
- www.diabetes.org – sponsored by the American Diabetes Association.
- www.webmd.com – a reliable commercial site that has numerous, well-identified sponsors.