A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

5 tips for decoding health information

A woman and a man reading news articles on a laptop

Consider the source and publication date of health information you find on social media.

The internet is full of information on health research, trends and new products. Some information is accurate and worth using to improve your health; other information isn’t.

How do you know what to trust? Should you eat ice cream for breakfast because one study suggested it could improve your mental performance? (You shouldn’t.)

“Ask yourself if what you’re reading makes sense,” said Dr. Brady Didion, a Marshfield Clinic family medicine physician. “Is it reasonable?”

When in doubt, use these tips to make sense of health information.

1. Consider the source.

Look for health information from reliable authorities. Avoid information overload by checking a few favorite sources regularly. If you don’t recognize the source, crosscheck the information with credible sources.

Examples of credible health information sources include:

Be skeptical of content sponsored by a group that has something to gain from you trying the trend or product.

2. Ask yourself, “Does this sound too good to be true?”

“Improving health usually requires some patient effort,” Didion said. “Things that sound too easy, like a supplement or drink that’s going to take away all your pain or make you lose weight with no work on your part, are suspect.”

3. Read past the headline.

Headlines don’t tell the whole story. The rest of the article may include background information, pros and cons of the health trend and who is likely to benefit. It may even explain why you shouldn’t follow a trend described in the headline.

4. Check the publication date.

Information that’s only a year old already may be outdated. Search a credible source for updated information if the article isn’t current.

5. Consider how the information applies to you.

Once you decide your information is accurate and useful, ask yourself these questions before trying a health trend yourself:

  • Is it safe, given my health status?
  • Is it realistic for my budget and schedule?
  • Can I maintain the change long-term?
  • Will it help me reach my goals?

“Just because it’s true, doesn’t mean it will benefit you,” Didion said.

Ask your health care provider if you’re still unsure about trying a health trend or product.

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