Friday, October 28, 2011

Honest Nutrition Information: How Do I Know What to Trust?

Have you ever been confused about what you are supposed to eat? If you answered “yes” to this question, you are not alone. Consumers are uncertain about healthy eating and proper nutrition. Misinformation is circulating through the media in the form of news articles and advertisements. Most of us have seen infomercials for weight loss products that promise rapid, easy weight loss. They appear to be everywhere we look. We know successful weight loss takes permanent lifestyle changes, but many of us are still understandably buying into quick fixes after several attempts at weight loss. In fact, Americans spent over $59.7 billion in 2010 alone on diet products. However, the confusion is not limited to weight loss. Supplements exist for seemingly every ailment and promise anything from a younger looking face to a better memory. Companies make products that sound scientific and appear effective. It is not difficult to see why people are confused.
With more people interested in nutrition than ever, there is more opportunity to encounter misleading information. According to a survey by the American Dietetic Association in 2008, 44% of consumers replied, “strongly agree” when asked if they actively seek out nutrition information. This number is up from just 19% in 2000. This growing curiosity is certainly good, but it also means there are more opportunities for consumers to come across nutrition information that may be inaccurate. About 63.4% of Americans report using television for information, while 45.1% rely on magazines. Only about 23.9% get information from the Internet, but this number is rapidly climbing in younger generations. It is interesting to note that while most people list these sources of information as their primary means of nutrition advice, they still do not find it trustworthy. Only about 14% of the respondents in the 2008 American Dietetic Association survey found television to be a trustworthy source of information. Only 22% thought the Internet was credible. Despite these findings, the majority of people rely heavily on the media because they lack access to knowledgeable health care professionals.

If you are one of many who use television, print sources, or the Internet for nutrition advice, there are some steps you can take to find dependable sources. These general guidelines can help someone evaluate news stories as well as advertisements.
 First, simply look at the language of the article. Words like “miracle,” or “revolutionary” are red flags, and you should be wary of these resources.
Next, look for the author and pinpoint his or her credentials. Registered dietitians or physicians are likely dependable. If the author’s name is not readily available on a webpage, look for the “about us” section.
When searching the Internet, another good general rule would be to look for educational sites (.edu) or professional organizations (.org) rather than commercial sites (.com). Anyone can sign up for a .com domain and post questionable material. However, keep in mind that some reputable websites, like Mayo Clinic, have a .com domain.
If you are uncertain, consider the purpose of the website. Those that try to sell you a product should most likely be avoided. When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Outrageous claims and promises signal inaccurate information.
Lastly, be sure that the source is current and has links to references. If you have any other doubts, talk to a health professional about the information you found for greater insight if possible
Unfortunately, nutrition science is not black and white, and sometimes it will be difficult to tell what is good information. If you use these tips to evaluate websites, television clips, and print sources, you may find it easier to determine good nutrition information that will lead you to a healthier lifestyle.
Written by Andrea Baker, Dietetic Intern with Penn State University

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