A lot of people turn to the Internet for information on almost anything. After all, the Internet really is a huge collection of knowledge on all subjects. One thing that many people try to find information on is weight loss. This is a subject that is close to many people’s hearts and most of us want to know how we can shed those extra pounds. However, a new study has now suggested that if you want to have valid information on how to lose weight, you should skip the first page of the Google search results.
The Journal of Medical Internet Research
At least a third of the entire population in our country is overweight. As a result, some 40% of people look for tips online on how to lose weight and how to take part in good exercise. The Journal of Medical Internet Research decided that it was time they started to look into the information that people were actually provided with, and the findings were surprising. They found that Google would provide people with sources that were totally unreliable, and that most websites were actually commercial, rather than truly health-related. Indeed, the products and techniques that were uncovered were completely unrealistic.
This is a significant problem for consumers. Everybody believes that the information provided on the first page of Google is the most reliable and honest. Very few people ever go past the first search page, or even past the first three results. Francois Modave, of Jackson State University in Mississippi explained this.
The first links that appear on an internet search, regardless of the topic, receive nearly 90 per cent of all clicks. This steers consumers to substandard information.
Modave chairs the university’s computer science department, and he was keen to get this information out to the public. To perform the study, a team of researchers gathered a group of volunteers who had a personal interest in weight loss. They were asked to search online for information on weight loss and their behavior in terms of their searches was then monitored. They studied particular key phrases, including “lose weight” and “weight loss” and then used the Google autocomplete feature to provide results. A total of 30 different search terms that all had a relation to weight loss were used. They then looked at the top results provided by Google for each of these searches.
The team of researchers then started to look into the content they found. They compared this information with advice that has been scientifically proven, looking at things such as exercise, nutrition and strategies to change and improve behavior. They found that the highest quality information was found on government sites, medical sites, blogs and university sites. However, of all the websites that were studied, only a fifth had a 50% or higher score. This score shows that at least half the information contained on the website is actually true and relevant when it comes to losing weight.
Not a Single Site Really Focused on the Important Factors
Not a single website was found that actually addresses the various important factors that relate to losing weight. The majority only focused on one or perhaps two elements involved in weight loss. Some, for instance, would only look at diet, others only at exercise and others still only at behavior. Focusing only on one of these things will not lead to sustained and healthy weight loss.
Indeed, losing weight is a complicated issue that has to look at more than just exercising more and eating less. As a result, it is very important that sources provide full, comprehensive and credible information. This is not being done at present and this must be changed. According to Modave, this could be done by the government and academic institutions, who should focus more strongly on their own SEO (search engine optimization) processes. If their websites become more search engine friendly, then it would be their results that come up at the top.
Academic Institutions Need to Work With Blog Owners
Modave suggests that these institutions should work together with blog owners, as bloggers are the ones who are able to get to the top of Google. Additionally, they understand how to write in a language that attracts readers, although their language can, at times, be quite controversial and certainly not of academic standard. However, he added that the issue goes deeper than providing information that is easy to use and easy to find. Consumers themselves also have a big role to play and they should learn how to think critically about the information they read.
Screening Information on Weight Loss
A spokeswoman for the Nutrition and Weight Management Center, Caroline Apovian, was not involved in the study. However, the Boston University Medical Center that she works for felt that it was important to look into the findings of this study. She felt that it can indeed be difficult to screen the information on weight loss that is found online, but it can be done. She advises that people should look at the website owners’ credentials. They should, for instance, have a degree in medical sciences or nutrition, they should be dieticians or have a specialization in obesity medicine and so on. Additionally, she recommends people try to read the various scientific journals that offer guidelines on weight loss and obesity.
Putting It to the Test
Following the release of this report, others felt they should check the results and put the test to the test.
The first three results were clearly marked as advertisements. The first non-sponsored link was for Dr. Oz’s 2-Week Rapid Weight-Loss Plan Instructions, perhaps not the most authoritative source. Next was an article in US News about The Best Weight-Loss Diets. That was followed by Nutrisystem’s corporate website. The fourth entry was Healthy Weight Loss, a page on the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) website.
It seemed that Bing fared even worse. The first page did not show a single independent medical website or government health website. This demonstrates just how realistic the results of the study are. It is hoped that proper guidelines will be released soon to educate the general public on how to filter the information they find.