*Ping* A WhatsApp notification from the family group chat pops up—it’s Anita Aunty forwarding some message about how to prevent bloating by having a spoonful of turmeric powder in the mornings.
In today’s world, there’s a new health fad every other week—from celery juice to waist trainers to CBD oil—and our desi community often falls prey to trying these fads and spreading misinformation around through Whatsapp and other platforms. Keeping up with all of these fads can be challenging, but as the younger and more tech-savvy folks, we ought to try and determine what’s safe and what isn’t to keep ourselves (and our aunties and uncles) safe! So, here are some ways to find reliable information!
When you google search “celery juice benefits” or “is a waist trainer effective,” you’ll notice three general types of results: blog posts, articles from larger media outlets (i.e. magazines and news websites), and health websites.
Blogs are owned, operated, and written by individuals (or businesses). While it’s wonderful that the Internet has given people platforms to express their views, it also means that ANYONE can publish essentially WHATEVER they want on their website, regardless of the truth. As a blogger myself, I still caution people from taking health advice from blogs. It’s often difficult to verify whether the blogger actually is who they claim to be. I could publish a blog tomorrow claiming to be Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former surgeon general of the US, and until he gets my page shut down and sues me (which could take months or years), that blog would be up and running. Second, bloggers are often paid for their posts; for instance, CBD oil companies often pay for positive reviews on blog posts, so it’s worth noting the conflict of interest and taking such posts with a grain of salt.
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2. Large Media Outlets
Large media outlets such as CNN Health or Health Magazine often publish articles about the newest health fads and hire medical professionals to weigh in and share quotes giving their opinion and advice regarding the fad in question. Generally speaking, I think these large outlets are careful about spreading misinformation since they have large readerships and face the risk of lawsuits for any missteps, so I consider them fairly trustworthy. However, the one thing to note is that magazine websites (Glamour.com for example) or even outlets like Refinery29 are often paid by companies to publish positive articles about them. Running with the CBD oil example, a CBD oil company could pay Refinery29 to post an article on ‘5 Ways to De-Stress During the Quarantine’ and include their product in the post. For that reason, I’d stick to the digital news outlets instead of digital entertainment websites.
3. Health-based informational websites
Health websites like WebMD and Healthline are reviewed by licensed physicians and scientists who make sure that the information is reliable and up to date, so I think these sites are fair game and trustworthy. These sites often do a good job of making medical information understandable and straightforward for the general public, and to my knowledge, they don’t accept payment from companies the way bloggers and entertainment websites do. The information on these sites should trump whatever you read elsewhere.
4. Call/Message your doctor!
Your primary care physician, if you have access to one, can be a great source of information! Even if you don’t have an appointment coming up, many offices allow patients to call in with questions. If you’re curious about whether something is safe to try, it’s worth shooting your family doctor a message via phone or email. Someone from the office will likely get back to you, and the benefit is that they know your health history already.
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5. Reliable, credentialed medical professionals in the media
As much as I have cautioned against trusting blogs, I’ve got to say that there are so many AMAZING medical professionals who are using social media to spread ACCURATE information and drown out the misinformation. Many of these physicians are verified on their platforms (Instagram, Twitter, etc.), see patients in their offices, and hold professorships at universities, and you truly can verify that they are who they claim to be. These physicians often break down myths in an effective way and try to make scientific research understandable to the public. There are dermatologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists, and plenty of other fantastic doctors who do a great job of educating their own patients (and others) through social media. I do believe that these physicians can be trusted and that they are experts in their fields.
Finally, beyond the recommendations provided above, I also think it’s really important to educate our elder relatives on why we can’t trust anything and everything we read on the Internet! Taking the time to explain to them how easy it is to spread misinformation or to pretend to be someone you’re not on the Internet can go a long way in helping them see where we’re coming from, and hopefully, even stop them from forwarding WhatsApp chain messages to the family group chat!