Health Literacy Tips

How often do you scroll through a website or social media and click on a post written about health or wellness? With the internet at our fingertips health information is only a click away. Reading online can make staying up-to-date and healthy easier, but how do we know if we can trust what we read? Just because it is on the internet does not mean it is true. No matter what I am reading, I always ask myself these three questions to help me find out if I can trust what the post says.

1. Who owns the website or social media account? The ending of the web address tells a lot about the website. Use this chart to help decide who owns the website and what type of information they might be telling you.

web urls

After you determine the website’s owner, think about how they pay for it. Running a website costs money, so the website might also sell a product. If so, consider what product is being sold. Does the website claim the product helps to a treat a disease? Often, websites that promote or sell products favor information that will help the product sell.

2.   Why is it true? Good posts will tell you why information is true by giving proof. Data from research is used to back up statements, such as how many people have a disease or how much time it takes for a medicine to work. Another way to show proof is with references. Because references can also be opinions, it is less certain that they are true. Use caution if the article does not give you any data.

If the post included references, think about who these people are. Doctors and other healthcare providers can be good sources. The article should tell you who the person is and why you can trust them. Find title words that let you know the person has knowledge. Some examples are doctor, nurse, dietitian, and physical therapist. Even if the person seems trustworthy, does this person sell or promote a product?

3.   Where did it come from? When you wrote an essay in school, your teacher asked you to cite your sources. Posts online should do the same. Look for key phrases like “according to…” as a signal that the writer is telling you where they got the information.

Posts should give you proof (see Number2). Authors of good posts tell you where they found the proof. Make sure the author’s source is trustworthy, too. When you see a source from the government, a medical school, hospital, or other medical organization such as the American Heart Association you know that you can trust it.

Try the questions out and see how simple it is to spot information that you can trust. While reading online is easy, remember that it is always “Ok2Ask” your healthcare provider about information that you read. Contact your healthcare provider if you have concerns or questions about your health.

-Samantha Borghammer is a WIC intern and dietetic student at Auburn University