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Health Info on Web Often
Not Backed by Science

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Consumers searching for health information on the Internet are likely to encounter Web sites selling products or making claims not backed by medical research, a team of journalists reports.

Their findings are based on an Internet search using five portals: Yahoo, America Online, Microsoft Network, Lycos, and Go. The researchers searched for eight terms related to heart disease, eight related to cancer and eight related to weight loss. The analysis included the first 10 sites listed by the five portals for the different topics for a total of 1,200 Web sites.

Only 35% of the sites were non-promotional and based on scientific information, the researchers report in a letter in the July 17th issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. About 11% of the sites were based on medical evidence but sold products, and 22% of the sites were not based on scientific research and sold products.

Nearly one third of the sites that came up through the search were personal pages, book catalog sites or unavailable sites. Overall, less than 3% of the sites were for government-sponsored Web sites, the team found.

And in other findings, science-based Web sites dedicated to weight loss were more likely than science-based sites devoted to cancer to sell products.

"These results reinforce concerns that Internet users are likely to encounter Web sites selling products, usually products unsupported by scientific research, as well as objective, science-based medical recommendations," according to Dr. Michael D. Slater and colleagues from the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Indeed, a recent survey by Harris Interactive found that the majority of adults in four different countries believe that the government should regulate online health information. At the same time, a large majority of Internet users surveyed in the US, France, Germany, and Japan believe that health information on the Web is trustworthy and of good quality.

SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;288:316-317.


Reference Source 89

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