Health Information Sources for Educators

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition and Anatomy courses for over 5 years. He has a B.S. in Exercise Physiology from Furman University and a M.S. in Dietetics & Nutrition from Florida International University. He is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C)

It is vitally important for health educators to get their information from credible and reliable sources. Continue reading to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to find reliable and accurate health information. Updated: 12/22/2020

Dangerous Advice

Lisa was recently diagnosed with cancer, and she had begun chemotherapy. One of Lisa's friends sells supplements as a side job, and her friend told her to take a special supplement that is supposed to help cure cancer. Lisa followed her friend's advice and began to take this supplement. Unfortunately, about 3 weeks later, Lisa's doctor informed her that the supplement she was taking was negatively impacting the chemotherapy, making the chemo less effective in treating her cancer.

Lisa's health was put into jeopardy, because she followed the advice of her friend, who likely had no official medical training. This story illustrates how important it is for people to gather health information from credible and reliable sources, particularly people who are educating others.

Reliable Sources for Health Information

When researching a health topic, there are several questions you can ask about a source to help determine whether or not the source is reliable. These questions include:

  • Who sponsors or publishes the source/website?
  • Who is the author of the information?
  • Did anyone review the information or article?
  • When was the information published?
  • What is the purpose of the publication or information?

Let's look at each of these questions with a bit more detail one at a time.

Sponsors and Publishers

To find the answer to this question, you can often look at the very end of the URL. Websites ending in ''.edu'', ''.gov'', or ''.org'' often indicate the source of the website and information is reliable.

Examples of organizations that have websites ending in .edu, .gov, or .org include:

  • The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or (CDC)
  • The National Institute of Health, or (NIH)
  • The American Heart Association
  • The American Cancer Society
  • Colleges and universities

The Author

Ideally, you want the author of the article or information to have official education and training on the subject. For example, if you are reading an article about heart disease, you would want the author of the article to have official education and training in this field, such as a cardiologist.

Peer Review

Articles and information that has been reviewed by someone other than the actual author increases the likelihood that the information is accurate. Peer-review refers to the process in which information is evaluated by someone who is considered an expert in the field. For example, a researcher may write an article about the risk factors of diabetes. A peer-review of this article would involve an expert in the field of diabetes, such as an endocrinologist, evaluating this article to make sure it is accurate. The best source of peer-reviewed articles are medical journals, and examples of these medical journals include:

  • New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)
  • Annals of Internal Medicine
  • The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
  • The Lancet
  • The British Medical Journal (BMJ)

Publication Date

The medical field advances very quickly as we are constantly learning new information about health. Therefore, it's very important to look for current information when researching a health topic. For example, an article on skin cancer written in 1999 will likely include outdated information. It's actually quite likely that there have been many medical advances in the field of skin cancer in the 20+ years since the article was published.

Publication Purpose

Websites or other publications sites that are trying to sell a product are often not reliable sources. Since they are trying to sell a product, the information they publish is likely to be biased. Examples of products that are often sold in the health field include dietary supplements, diet plans, and some medications.

Publications that are trying to sell a product, such as weight loss supplements, often contain unreliable and biased information.
supplements

Unreliable Sources for Health Information

There are so many unreliable sources for health information, especially now that anyone can post their thoughts and opinions on the internet. Some common places/sources that provide unreliable health information include:

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