Online Health Research Tips

The Good Ol' Days.

Doing health research online is crazy-making enough, even when you manage to find reliable and credible sources. There are so many bickering experts and contradictory findings to sort out!

But most people don't even manage to GET to the reputable sources in the first place. Typing in a random google query can quickly lead to quacks and crackpots, sponsored ads, and forums full of blathering no-nothings repeating something they read "somewhere."

So this next guest post by Dr. Tiffany Reiss, an actual professor with a background in exercise physiology, offers some tips for navigating the interwebs when you have a question about health and fitness.

Say hi to Tiffany!

Dr. Tiffany Reiss serves as an adjunct faculty member for Seattle University, Lake Washington Institute of Technology, American Public University and Walden University. She received her PhD from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in Health Promotion at Virginia Tech and holds a MS degree in Exercise Physiology from Appalachian State University. She is a contributor for the Sports and Fitness Network and is the co-founder of TheHubEdu: A Learning Library. (More about that later; it's pretty cool and right now it's FREE!)

As for Crabby, she's still off on her South African Adventure and hopes to pop in at some point when there's internet. In the meantime, please welcome Tiffany Reiss .--Crabby

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True....

We live in the information age.  We have more information available to us at our fingertips than any individual can manage to keep up with on a daily basis.  We think because we have access to all of this information, we are better informed.  The problem is, we aren't.

Yes, we have access to quick sources of information; the problem is vetting all the resources of information readily available to us.  How do we know which sources of information are valid and which ones are not?

As a college professor teaching health and fitness concepts, I deal with this with my students as well. I knew my role was changing when about 6 years ago I had just finished "professing" a concept in class when a student with a laptop in the back of room raised their hand and said "but I Googled it and this website says just the opposite"!  My students are still learning and often lack context which makes being able to filter the information a much needed skill.  I talk to them about the importance of this because when they graduate, they are the professionals society will look to in order to get the correct information.  Being able to critically evaluate information is vital these days because the internet, for all of the great information available, is also loaded with inaccurate information that sounds legitimate and unfortunately the health and fitness industry is one of the most difficult to filter because we want so badly for some of it to be true.

Here are some thoughts on better filtering all of the health and fitness information out there:

1) If it sounds too good to be true, it is!  No question.  There are no magic pills, diets, exercise routines or devices that are the panacea for all of our health and fitness issues. Yet we spend billions on these products annually.

2) Don't just believe one resource of information on anything, engage in due diligence. We tend to have what is commonly referred to as confirmation bias.  Meaning, when something validates our current belief sets, we embrace that information without doing our due diligence. When something calls to question our belief sets, we tend to dismiss it, also without doing any due diligence. The internet can be a great resource, but it still requires some digging to get to some sense of what is legitimate and what isn't.

3) Everything is relative.  Are eggs good or bad?  It depends on the context.  Watching fat or cholesterol intake, probably not the best choice.  Need a high quality protein, excellent choice.  What about Omega 3 Fish Oil supplements?  Careful here, there is a lot of information it can have many positive health benefits, but there is also some more recent information that large doses are potentially dangerous. Just look at these 3 sources:

Good or bad?  Depends.  A couple of quick points here.  We haven't been studying fish oils for that long so really the jury is still out on the overall benefits and risks. There is also a big difference in taking supplements and getting the source from natural food sources and be careful of the supplements, these are not regulated by the FDA.

So where to turn for the reliable health information on the internet?

Any site with a .gov, .edu or .org or popular sites such as: WebMD, NYTimes and of course, Cranky Fitness.  These sites are often non-profit and aren't trying to sell you something in the process, just provide the most up to date consensus on the information.  If you are seeking more thorough research on a topic, using sites such as:

1)    Google Scholar

2)    PLOS One

3)    PubMed

4)    Science Daily

5)    Local Public Library or University/College Library: some of it is digital and some of it might be free.

What about paid sites?  Some health research sources that require a subscription for unlimited access still have free content available on a more limited or temporary basis. Look for free trials if you can find them if you're trying to avoid subscription costs.

Now the question is, what do you do with all of these great resources and how do you keep them organized?  If you are looking for a tool that can help  you might want to check out TheHubEdu as an organizational tool.

I co-founded this site as a place for lifelong learners to go who want to organize and keep up with all of these great (and often contradictory) pieces of information. I have actually built my own library of vetted resources pertinent to my classes and my own learning interests and share this with students and peers.  This is also a space to dialogue around these topics to further our understanding.  A social learning network, and believe me, there is a lot to share and discuss!

Do you guys do much roaming around the web in search of answers to health or fitness questions?

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