Have you ever read an article touting the latest and greatest superfood, only to later watch the news and hear that same food might actually be harmful to your health?
Or maybe you read a newspaper headline stating “Build unbeatable bones with dairy”. Meanwhile the health magazine you just bought poses the question: “Does dairy cause osteoporosis?”.
You watch a newscast stating, “Choose whole grains to protect your heart”, just to read later “How ‘heart-healthy’ whole grains make us fat”.
How are you supposed to discern which statement is truthful?
And how do you get through each day without constantly debating your health decisions?
Unfortunately this kind of polarized reporting yields major confusion, which usually leads to one of two consequences:
- People get stressed out and incessantly worry about every decision that they make.
- People become apathetic and decide that they cannot win, no matter what choice they make.
Both options are a sad reality that decrease the sense of ownership we have over our own health.
I hope that this article helps you to navigate the information overload, identify fact from fiction and become empowered in your own health.
How to navigate the information overload
While it may be overwhelming, there are several ways that you can navigate through the thickets of information and end up healthy and stress-free on the other side.
Below are my top five recommendations on how to tell fact from fiction in the confusing and contradictory world of health and wellness. Take into account the following considerations when determining the quality of information provided and the credibility of it’s source.
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1. Who is the individual or group advocating the particular viewpoint?
While this seems like a basic concept, it is immensely important in determining the soundness of the statement or opinion. Does the individual have any education or expertise on the topic? Are they involved in healthcare and do they stay current with the leading research in the industry?
Is the individual that is writing or speaking about the topic basing their viewpoints solely upon their own personal experience? If so, their personal experience may not be generalizable to the rest of the population.
I don’t believe that you need letters behind your name or other such credentials to have expertise in a particular subject area. However, I do believe that the necessary research needs to be done to provide credibility and diminish bias.
2. What does this person have to gain by sharing this viewpoint?
Perhaps they are passionate about the topic, have studied it extensively and want to share their greater knowledge with the masses. Great! But perhaps they are financially invested in the outcome…
When I was researching examples of contradictory articles to use for this piece, I found that the dairy associations had authored many of the articles advocating the importance of dairy for bone health. Obviously, they stand to make a financial gain by telling consumers that they should be drinking more milk. Is the alternative milk industry (ex: almond and soy milk) posting anti-dairy articles? If so, this would be another example of bias in their writing and declarations. Although having a vested financial interest does not mean that their statements are necessarily incorrect, it is important to note they may have a bias in marketing a particular viewpoint. While these are blatantly obvious examples, it is always important to be mindful and look for financial motivators when discerning the credibility of information.
3. Is the presented claim based on historical data, scientific literature or someone’s opinion?
If it is based on a personal opinion, refer back to criteria number one. Is this person educated or otherwise qualified in the area that they are writing or speaking about? Do others support their opinion and has the individual done the appropriate research? Scientific research definitely improves the legitimacy of a claim or statement, but it is important to note that scientific studies can also have their flaws and biases.
4. Does the argument or statement seem logical?
A patient recently told me that a healthcare provider had informed them that their active Chrons disease (a complex digestive disorder) would not be at all affected by their choice in diet. This is completely illogical, and it is unfortunate that the individual was presented with this irresponsible viewpoint. It was quite difficult for this patient to discern the fallacy or negligence in this viewpoint, as it had been delivered to them by a medical professional.
Trust your instincts and logic, and be sure to do your own research when something just does not sound right.
5. Is this an extreme stance or viewpoint?
“Extreme” diets, fitness routines and therapies can be extraordinarily useful for certain medical conditions and some individuals. However, extremes can also be a sign of a passing fad. For example, the Atkins diet surged in popularity several years ago and attracted a lot of media attention. Is it effective? Yes, it definitely has the potential to lead to weight loss. Are there other diets that I would recommend instead? Yes, most definitely!
Another example of an “extreme” diet is the “Specific carbohydrate diet”. This is a very restrictive diet that can do wonders for many individuals with complex digestive conditions. However, not everyone needs such a restrictive diet and for many individuals the difficulty of the diet would outweigh the potential benefits.
Take Home Message
Reflecting on these questions when faced with controversial material will equip you to better analyze the information overload that we face day to day. When presented with conflicting information, realize that the truth usually lies somewhere in between the two extremes.
Utilize these tools to help discern fact from fiction and empower yourself by taking an active role in your health.
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