There’s no doubt the health and wellness industry is booming right now.
An ageing population, coupled with greater awareness of the importance of staying healthy for life has contributed to an explosion in the number of healthcare, wellbeing and fitness business popping up all across the country.
Part of this this movement towards greater health and wellbeing is a plethora of ‘wellness warriors’, ‘health bloggers’, and other individuals writing articles and providing advice relating to health and medical matters.
But are these credible sources for information on health? And are those who write these types of articles qualified to provide such advice?
The problem with wellness warriors and bloggers
Firstly, let me state, there is nothing wrong with having an interest in health, wellbeing and alternative therapies. There is nothing wrong with using alternative therapies, and there is also nothing wrong with reading health information on the internet.
However, what you may not realise is a lot of information relating to health and wellness (and even medical conditions) found on the internet is inaccurate, unfounded, unproven, untrue, and downright dangerous.
Sometimes articles contain claims based on anecdotal evidence. Sometimes information presented is old and outdated. Sometimes it is based on pseudoscience, or ‘popular opinion’. At its worst, the health and wellbeing arena is riddled with claims and scaremongering tactics aimed at playing on people’s vulnerabilities and designed to lighten consumers’ wallets.
A recent case of ‘wellness warrior’ turned sour is that of Belle Gibson. A self-proclaimed health guru who claimed to have ‘cured’ her terminal brain cancer through healthy eating and natural therapies, finally admitted last year (2015) that all her claims were untrue.
Ms Gibson had a thriving business based on these false claims. She developed an app and companion cookbook, and wrote a blog on the subject. She also made a lot of money based on her lies. But until her story finally unravelled, thousands of people had put their trust in her.
How to determine if an article is credible
Ms Gibson is not the only person to make fake or incorrect claims regarding health and medical information. There are thousands of wellness bloggers, or website owners doing the same thing. Heck, even journalists get information incorrect from time to time.
And while innocent mistakes can be expected occasionally, health information is too important to get wrong the majority of the time.
Here are the top five ways you can determine if the information you are reading is likely to be credible.
- Is the writer sticking to facts or voicing an opinion?
A credible health writer will stick to the facts rather than voice their opinion. They will also write in a way to present the facts and empower the reader to make a positive health change if necessary. They will not use scaremongering tactics, nor pressure you to purchase a product or a service.
As soon as there is a ‘sales pitch’, then it’s a safe bet that the information is biased towards getting you to make a purchase.
- Does the article use accredited sources of information?
Any health writer worth their salt will always defer to a credible source for health information. Even better, they will attribute, facts and figures to that source. For example, it’s easy to write :
“one in six Australians are affected by cardiovascular disease”.
But how do you know this is accurate?
A credible health article will refer to the source of the information in the body of the article:
“According to the Heart Foundation, one in six Australians are affected by cardiovascular disease”.
Credible sources of information can include peak health bodies and organisations, federal government websites, well-known medical schools and universities.
Other ‘wellness’ websites and blogs, newspaper reports and anecdotal evidence are NOT credible.
- Does the article link in with current information?
Great health articles make use of current research statistics. What is deemed as ‘current’? Anything published within the last three years. Medical information changes so quickly these days. With new research being published and statistics updated almost annually, there is no excuse to use old, outdated information.
However, some information and reports are only updated every few years, particularly if they are drawn from surveys that are conducted every few years (i.e. The Australian Census). If this is the case, always state which year your statistics are coming from.
- Does the article refer to current research?
Just like using current information, a good health writer will back up claims with current research. When citing research studies, the body of the article should mention what year the study was published and which organisation published it. The link to the original source of the study (not a news report or media release) should be included in references at the bottom of the article.
- Does the writer include a list of references?
A great health writer will attribute all sources of their information. The reasons for doing this are three-fold — firstly, to add credibility and weight to their story; secondly, to allow readers to search for further information if they need it; and thirdly, to cover themselves in case any of the information is incorrect or no longer current by the time the article is published.
A final word…
It’s important to remember not to believe everything you read online. Just because it’s published does not make it true. Even the best health and medical writers may make simple errors.
Health information found online should only ever be used as a guide (and only when you deem it to be credible). Your doctor is the best person to advise you about your personal health concerns and no amount of online ‘research’ should replace your own doctor’s medical opinion.
If you find information that contradicts your doctor’s advice, then speak to them about it. Don’t simply take the word of a ‘health blogger’, or ‘wellness warrior’, no matter how long they have been blogging or how many followers they have.
If you want to engage an experienced health and medical writer for your project, contact me. I’d love to help you out and ensure your content is factual and up-to-date.