Updated in July 2015 by the Manitoba Association of Home Economists
This is the information age. Consumers are constantly bombarded with information from television, radio, newspapers, magazines and the Internet. The sale of products, books and other ‘programs’ aimed at promoting health is big business. While some of the claims may sound appealing, they may not be based on accurate information.
How can you tell if the nutrition information you are getting is reliable and accurate? Here are some tips:
- What are the credentials of the person providing the information? The most credible sources of nutrition information are dieticians (abbreviated P.Dt. in Saskatchewan) and individuals with a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in human nutrition. In Manitoba, a dietician needs to go through a Dietetic Internship after they get a nutrition degree.
- Does the information make dramatic claims that are rejected by respected scientific organizations? Despite what some people say, researchers and health professionals are not trying to hide any ‘cures’ or profit from the illnesses of others. Health professionals are people who have families and friends, and they would not want to watch their loved ones suffer or die needlessly.
- Does the product or program being promoted really work? Is there scientific evidence to support the claims being made or are the salespeople relying on testimonials (personal stories) from ‘satisfied customers’? Testimonials are powerful, but just because something works for one or two people does not mean it is safe or that it will work for you.
- Are the claims based on a single study? Results of a single scientific study can be taken out of context and sensationalized. Accurate information is usually based on several studies that have been conducted over time.
- Does the information sound too good to be true? No pill, powder or potion can replace healthy eating, physical activity and adequate rest. Most health problems are too complex to be fixed by a simple solution. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The results will usually be short-term at best.
- Is the information being used to sell a product? If so, you may not be getting both sides of the story. Make sure you know the benefits and the risks for all products that you take.
Misinformation about nutrition and health is not easy to spot. Some salespeople try to sell questionable products and services by using scientific terms and quoting or misquoting scientific references. They may make promises and guarantees for better health and a long life even though they have little credible evidence to support these claims. They may even admit that there is no scientific basis for what they are saying, and tell you that science does not have all the answers.
They are right about one thing. Science does not have all the answers, nor does it claim to. However, health professionals base their recommendations on the scientific information available at the time. If you want accurate nutrition information, contact a nutrition professional.
For more information, contact your local Public Health Nutritionist or District Dietitian.
WRITTEN BY THE PUBLIC HEALTH NUTRITIONIST OF SASKATCHEWAN
Originator: Cathy Knox
“The Wheat from the Chaff: Sorting Out Nutrition Information on the Internet,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, November 1998, Vol. 98, No. 11.
Quackwatch. By Stephen Barrett, M.D. http://www.quackwatch.com
Health Schemes, Scams and Frauds. Stephen Barrett, M.D. 1990.