Do you believe everything you read on the Internet? If so, a new survey finds that you are not alone; Fifty-nine percent of Americans follow health and nutrition advice found on the Internet, despite the fact that only 41 percent believe it’s true. This means that even though they aren’t sure they believe the information, nearly half of Americans are making health and nutrition decisions based on Internet data, regardless of the source.
Poll Numbers Breakdown
Numbers indicate that more than two-thirds of Americans obtain information from the Internet according to results from a recent Opinion Research Corporation poll of 1,000 individuals. Eighty-two percent of those people are specifically seeking health and nutrition advice, but among that group, only 62 percent believe its accuracy. Still, 89 percent indicate following the advice that they found.
Manhattan physician Dr. Gafanovich analyzed the poll numbers by the total number of those who claim to look for information on the Internet and revealed the following three facts:
1. 54 percent of Internet information seekers look for health and nutrition advice.
2. Only 41 percent believe what they read is in fact accurate.
3. Yet 59 percent follow the advice regardless.
In some ways, the only real surprise is that the numbers are this low due to the proliferation of information available 24 hours a day on the Internet.
Medical Community Reaction
How many times a day must physicians be confronted with the statement “I read it on the Internet” and then enter into a conversation about whether or not the statement is valid. Apparently quite a few, depending on the age range of the patient.
“In a lot of ways the Internet is a giant medical advertisement for anything new or controversial. People get more informed faster, but may not have all of the necessary information based on what they find online,” said a pediatrician in Gales Ferry, CT. “What the Internet often does is feed into parents’ own anxieties that they then move onto their children.”
The example he gave was FluMist, the nasal flu vaccine that was recently FDA approved for children as young as 2 years old. Previously FluMist was only approved for individuals age 5-49. “FluMist is an effective flu vaccine according to most literature, and its needle-free, but it also cannot ensure that the entire vaccine is absorbed by the child. What if they cough or sneeze during administration?” the physician said. “I give my kids the flu vaccine as a shot and will continue to recommend the same to my patients.”
Despite these observations, physicians think the array of information available on the Internet is a positive thing because it means people can find answers to basic questions and research the information about conditions, preventative medicines, and other nutritional advice. He believes he gets these questions more frequently because of the age and technical know-how of his patients and their parents.
In contrast, Darren Courtright, D.P.M. of New London, CT, gets fewer questions stemming from the Internet because many of his patients are older. “They might look up what I tell them, or have their children do it for them, but usually don’t come in and say ‘I think I have [blank] because of these symptoms.’ I do get the occasional off-the-wall self-diagnosis, but usually things are pretty tame.”
According to a press release statement issued by the American Dietetic Association (ADA), “the popularization of electronic interaction has resulted in rapid and widespread dissemination of misinformation and urban health myths. It is the position of the ADA that food and nutrition misinformation can have harmful effects on the health, well being, and economic status of consumers.”
What it Means
As one physician asserts, “Information is a good thing because it starts a dialogue. I’d be more nervous if I thought people were just self-treating with no supervision but most are not.”
A 1,000 person poll is hardly representative of the overall population but likely indicates the general trend of consumers seeking and following health and nutrition advice from the Internet.