People looking to learn about weight loss online are likely getting information substandard in quality and comprehensiveness, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health.
“The pages that patients are likely to access do not provide advice that is supported by the current knowledge we have of weight loss,” François Modave, PhD, of Jackson State University in Mississippi, told Endocrine Today.
Modave and colleagues, identified 103 web sites — 21 commercial, 52 news and media, 7 blogs, 14 medical, government or university and 9 unclassified — that met eligibility criteria based on 30 weight loss specific queries.
The investigators evaluated the content quality, accessibility of the information and author credentials, then scored the content in relation to evidence-based guidelines available for weight loss.
Quality scores ranged from 0 (nothing) to 4 (excellent) for nutrition, physical activity and behavioral changes, and from 0 (nothing) to 2 (excellent) for pharmacotherapy and surgical options; the overall maximal score possible was 16.
Content quality scored, on average, 3.75 (range=0–16; SD=2.48). For nutrition, physical activity and behavior, approximately 5% of the sites scored greater than 8 (of 12 possible).
Scores varied significantly by type of web site. The highest came from medical, government or university sites (mean=4.82, SD=2.27) and blogs (mean=6.33, SD=1.99); however, the lowest came from commercial sites (mean=2.37, SD=2.60) or news and media sites (mean=3.52, SD=2.31) (analysis of variance P<.005).
“Clinicians should advise patients to carefully choose their online sources for weight loss,” Modave said, “and favor government, academic and medical websites to find accurate weight loss information on the Internet.”
In the study, the researchers recommend these types of organization strive to improve their web sites, with a particular emphasis on search engine optimization to ensure their sites show up higher in searchers. — by Allegra Tiver
Disclosures: The researchers report no relevant disclosures.