6 Tips That Will Help You Spot Fake Health News
Don’t fall for any B.S.
In the past year, I've gotten more questions from friends and acquaintances about health headlines they saw online than I ever have before. Can waist trainers really shrink love handles? Taking antibiotics for a cold is OK, right? OMG, do I really not need to floss?
I'm no doctor, but as the health editor for Women's Health, my friends know my B.S. meter for dubious wellness facts is pretty refined. (For the record, my answers were: no, no, and I wish, but no.) The first step in separating fact from fiction: Check which outlet is publishing the story, and make sure its reporting is up to par. Look at...
Sites that end in .gov, .edu, or .org (government agencies, universities, and nonprofits) tend to be the most trustworthy. Dot-coms from news organizations (e.g., NBC, CBS) can be good, if their reporters are thorough (for the record, we at Women's Health are sticklers for accuracy). What's shifty: URLs ending in .co, which often aim to mimic real news outlets (for example, ABCNews.com.co has zero affiliation with ABC News).
The "About Us" Section
It should tell you which company runs the site, its mission statement, who the leadership team is, and how to contact them. If any of this info is missing or sounds shady, the site probably is too.
A good journalist will interview multiple sources, including the study author (a really ace story will link to the study) and other experts. Take 30 seconds to google them. Reliable stories tap credentialed academics (M.D.s, Ph.D.s) actively studying the area being reported on. In other words, a homeopathic healer commenting on the genetics of cancer should be a red flag.
How Others Are Covering The Same News
If health news is sound, you'll see other reputable outlets covering the same story with pretty similar headlines. If not, they may have done their research and rejected it. See if the story has been debunked by Snopes.com, research site FactCheck.org, or health news analysis site HealthNewsReview.org.
It should be informational, not emotional. Someone who is pushing an agenda (e.g., trying to sell a supplement) will appeal to your feelings, not your brain.
Headlines That Seem Too Good To Be True
"Breakthrough: Tomatoes reduce heart attack risk" will get you to click, but the story should provide context up front, rather than hiding the caveat that you have to eat a truckload of tomatoes a day to reap any benefits.