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Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Medical research is advancing faster than ever, to the point that it seems like every day a new discovery makes the rounds on the morning talk shows and across thousands of blogs and news sites. As exciting as this science is, it is often not represented accurately. On top of that, there are hundreds of self-labeled “experts” dolling out health advice, and much of it is dubious at best.

While much of the world is throwing around the idea of fake news as it relates to politics, fake news has been plaguing our approach to health for decades, and the internet has made it worse.

Misleading or fabricated health news preys on the people who need health guidance the most. Creating new Habits of Health isn’t easy, but when you finally start trying to do the right thing you can feel overwhelmed by the sea of health information out there. And much of the advice you read will conflict with other advice. It’s no wonder that so many people throw their arms up and go back to their Habits of Disease.

As you take steps to create health in your own life, you should be wary of what advice you follow. Here are some tips to help:

  • Lean on physicians over online health gurus. Anyone can start a blog and a Facebook page, but becoming an actual physician takes years of study. Before you try a new health fad or change how you eat or move, talk to your primary care physician first. He or she knows your medical history and will have a more complete view of wellness (backed by formal training) than your typical blogger.

  • Go to the source rather than to news about the source. News program are quick to tout the findings of a new study, but if you read the reporting on a study and then read the study itself, you are likely to find two different takes on what the study means. Too often a well-done and well-executed study is twisted into some miraculous conclusion that does not actually exist in the original research. Again, talk to your physician first before hopping on a bandwagon.

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Miracle cures and miracle supplements sound great and appeal to our basic human desire to solve a problem quickly, but there are ultimately no shortcuts to optimal wellbeing. Your health is the sum of the choices you make throughout each and every day, one magical milkshake or pill can’t have the same impact.

  • Look at the results other people are seeing, especially long term. A lot of health programs deliver fast results upfront (through crash diets or outright starvation in some cases), but look at how big that community around those programs is 6 or 12 months after people first try it. Typically, most people yo-yo right back into obesity on fad programs. When you see a lot of people sticking around—keeping the weight off—and continuing to recommend an approach years later, that’s a good sign that you should pay attention to what’s happening there.

  • Be on the lookout for alternative agendas. Is the source of your health advice more interested in page views and advertising dollars than they are about your health? If the source doesn’t have frank conversations about the realities around creating health—it’s not always easy, and it takes work—they might be keener to tell you want to hear for the sake of their business.

Health is complicated enough without misinformation leaking into the mix. The more that we can focus our efforts and our decisions on actual medical research, the better we are able to maximize our wellbeing. When in doubt, look at what you read through the Habits of Health lens!

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