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June 2001 Issue
Finding reliable health and fitness advice on the Internet
by Michael Fick
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The primary criticism we hear about online health information is its dubious credibility. You will discover in the next ten minutes that a bigger "problem" is the total, sheer, overwhelming, incredible, stunning, incomprehensible volume of valid, credible, authoritative, state-of-the-art medical data that's just a few clicks away ... and that's just the portion that's been reviewed, approved, and presented by impeccable sources, boiled down for laymen, and readily accessible from our homes.

At the risk of losing you to the real experts on the rest of the Internet, this month's topic picks up where last month's column left off. May's column pointed you to some of the Internet's healthy recipes, as determined by universities, hospital staffs, professional source reviewers, and the logical application of the advice long presented in this column ... much of which came from sound sources such as you will find here.

How's that for circular logic? The experts are right, and thus I'm right, because they say they're right and I believe them.

It's not that simple. What makes them right, and the reason I believe them (at least over the self-proclaimed gurus touting such nonsense as fad diets and racks of supplements), is that the sources and claims you'll find in the sites presented here represent thorough, scientific, sound, peer-reviewed medical research. The "gurus", on the other hand, often distort the research for their own benefit, a classic example being the low-carb, high-fat or protein diets.

The sources here come mostly from the book, "Web Doctor: Finding the Best Health Care Online", by Sharp & Sharp, published by St. Martin's Griffin and from articles in news and health magazines. Besides having been reviewed and recommended by various levels of professionals, most of these sites have inherently obvious credentials. Besides, there are so MANY sites in the recommended lists that I've presented just what strike me as the cream of the crop. This list has been filtered several times for your benefit, and has been organized to help you focus on several general health and fitness topics. Some of these sites will answer any personal questions you submit, some rate and/or review other sites, and many have built-in search engines. Once you find some sites appropriate to your topic, the site's search engine will help you quickly wade through its thousands of pages to find the information you need.

Don't be surprised if you still encounter some conflicting information even on these sites. Research reveals new information every day, experts may interpret and apply it differently, we're just laymen trying to make sense of technical data, and individual patients respond differently. For each of these, there are a hundred more credible sources of medical advice, medical advice sites, reviews and lists of such sites, and lists of lists, and reviews of reviewers ... you get the picture. If this extremely short list of peer-reviewed sites doesn't leave you stunned ... staring like Dan Quayle caught in the headlights ... then you either have some serious and controversial medical issues or need to Get A Life!! :) Some of these sites have links to thousands of other approved sites with millions of articles!

To evaluate sites you stumble across without recommendation, consider using these criteria:

  • Credibility: M.D.? University? Hospital? Or just a catchy name?
  • Disclosure: Is the site selling something, or sponsored by someone who is?
  • Science: Are its claims supported by well-described scientific studies?
  • Currency: Are its links valid, or are many of them no longer valid, indicating sloppy work? (All the links provided here worked on May 10, 2001.)
  • Design: Is it easy to navigate, does it provide a good search engine, and is there a human contact available?

If in doubt, have http://hitiweb.mitretek.org/iq/ score the site for you. As for USENET newsgroups (e.g., alt.axetogrind, cyber.wannabes, or offthewall.looneytunes), wear full-body radiation suits when visiting them.

I could write or copy thumbnail sketches of these sites for you, to help you narrow them down. But a 20-word descriptor of a 1,000-page site makes no sense. You're much better off just setting aside an evening or just 10 minutes at a time to just sit and click and scan. You'll learn more in a few minutes of clicking and scanning, and find more fascinating places to visit again, than you ever could relying on 20-word sketches to do your filtering for you. The categorization you see here should be all the additional filtering you need. If a site's name isn't self-explanatory, I've added a descriptive phrase.

If you find this information interesting rather than overwhelming, you really should buy the referenced book from any bookstore. It's guaranteed to overwhelm you ... but it includes a CD so you don't have to type in one single web address. Just point and click like you do here. If the sheer volume of sites, data, links, topics, and sources leaves you catatonic, just think, "search engines". Most sites have one, and your computer has many more. They're extremely simple and effective when used by the seat of our pants, and powerful and concise once we learn to apply some basic rules.

First, some authoritative, selected, reviewed, approved guides to all the other guides.

Fitness & Food

Family Medical Care

Kids!

Guys and Gals

Exercise & Sports Medicine

Mental Health

Aging Issues

Diseases and Specific Conditions

Medicines, Supplements

Tests

Selecting doctors, dentists, hospitals, and HMOs

Alternative Medicine
Caution: herbs and supplements are drugs sold without USFDA approval.

Health & Disabilities

  • Ability Use their extensive A-Z index.

Online Health Newsstand

I've got to stop somewhere. This is like eating ice cream, which apparently takes up no space in my stomach. There are dozens more sites like these, each linking us to thousands or even millions of other reviewed sites. In fact, one of the indicators that a site is highly regarded is how many other sites recommend it. This is a Moibus circle, folks.

I think you get the point: the Internet is a good source of data, as long as we wear hip boots, confine our searches to a selected tens of millions of documents, and can read faster than Superman on speed.



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