Consumers following questionable health and nutrition advice from the web

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A new survey shows that an overwhelming number of Americans are following health and nutrition advice found on the Internet - whether they believe it to be accurate or not.

This alarming fact was discovered by Opinion Research Corporation, which polled more than 1,000 adults across the United States in June 2007. More than two-thirds of those polled reported obtaining information from the Web. Eighty-two percent of those people are specifically seeking health and nutrition advice and among that group, only 62 percent believe its accuracy. Still, 89 percent follow the advice that they found.

According to a statement issued by the American Dietetic Association (ADA), “popularization of electronic interaction has resulted in rapid and widespread dissemination of misinformation and ‘urban health myths… It is the position of the ADA that food and nutrition misinformation can have harmful effects on the health, wellbeing, and economic status of consumers… Several health organizations are addressing the proliferation of misinformation on the Internet. It is critical, therefore, that dietetics professionals be skeptical of information on the Internet, and that they are especially careful to provide accurate, research-supported evidence when contributing to these venues.”

Margarine is one of many examples of foods that are subjected to erroneous Web sites that are run by individuals, not leading health professional organizations. Though almost all soft margarine today is free of trans fat, many Web sites still advise people to choose butter, though the Food and Drug Administration supports soft margarine as the healthier option, as does the American Heart Association. “Soft margarine is a healthier choice because of its content of good fats and because many are available in lower calorie versions," says Dr. Barbara Howard, senior scientist at the MedStar Research Institute and Chair of the American Heart Association's Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism.

This survey exposes the trend of consumers seeking and following health and nutrition advice from the Web—which could be potentially harmful if inaccurate or unfounded. Because some Web sites pose as reliable health resources, but in fact are not credentialed, consumers are urged to be proactive and rely on their health professionals and well-known health and medical organizations.

This survey presents the findings of a telephone survey conducted among a national probability sample of 1,004 Americans age 18 and older. The sample reliability is +/- 3.2%. The CARAVAN Survey was completed in June 2007 by The Opinion Research Corporation for The Kellen Company. The most advanced probability sampling techniques are employed in the selection of households for telephone interviewing. Opinion Research Corporation utilizes an unrestricted random sampling procedure that controls the amount of serial bias found in systematic sampling to generate its random-digit-dial sample.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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