There’s no doubt that the obesity rate continues to rise. It’s now thought that around 60% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. Not surprisingly, the internet has become a popular source of diet tips and advice. But consumers need to be careful about the diet advice that they seek on the web as anyone can upload information, and there are very few credibility checks in place to confirm that the information is reliable.
A team from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine examined the credibility of dietary advice found online, investigating nearly 200 different programs. They included common, brand name commercial programs and independent ones, often with statements from a supporting healthcare professional, labelled as an expert, who testifies to the effectiveness of the program.
The investigation found that only 9% of websites adhered to the guidelines published by reputable health agencies. The advice given was typically non-specific, lacked details of nutrient composition and recommended supplements as part of the program to boost weight loss efforts. While most programs recommended physical activity as part of a weight loss program, only 3% advised people to complete the recommended level of 150 minutes or more of physical activity per week. Furthermore, very few diets recommended behavioural change strategies like self-monitoring and recording food intake and exercise levels.
This study demonstrates the extent of the variation in quality when it comes to dietary advice on the web. Many programs found on the internet have limited evidence backing their effectiveness and therefore may be completely ineffective, dangerous or ‘quick fixes’ which are unlikely to render any long-term gains. Just remember: if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.