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How to spot fake misleading health news

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One of the most frivolous features of the free worldwide internet is the reliability and dependability of the widespread content available online. While in most cases there is no far-reaching impact of the wasteful information available online, health-related news can prove to be quite disastrous in case it isn’t verified.

With the exorbitant rise in the number of fake health-related reviews, claims, summaries, and uses, the implications are only imaginable. Fake health news is generally divided into 3 broad classifications depending on their origin and implication. The 3 types of health news are-

  1. Thoughtless junk news-

This sort of news contains information which is frivolous and does not pose any possible harm to the health of its readers. For example, an article on a reputed US newspaper read, “Loud Music at Restaurants Could Be Leading You to Order Burgers over Salads.”

  1. Misleading news with information that are potentially harmful-

Sometimes, in order to promote a wasteful medical resource, fraudulent information is spread across the internet to catch the reader’s interest. A popular news doing rounds on the internet is that the medicine used to control blood pressure has ingredients which can increase the chances of being prone to pancreatic cancer. This false news has made multiple patients of blood pressure worry about continuing their dedicated dose of the prescribed medicine. In case a person was to blindly trust such a health news, he/ she is being exposed to a risk of multiple adverse effects which may prove to be fatal.

  1. News that is evidently dangerous-

An example of vaccines being harmful to children is the best way to explain this type of health news. Information on many websites infers that vaccinations expose children to a risk of being autistic. This news has been a reason for worry among a large population of patients. Till date, there is no scientific or medical association of this fact by any reliable source. Information like this is downright harmful and makes a person vulnerable to adverse effects.  Caution should be exercised and a practicing medical professional must be consulted before paying heed to any gibberish floating on the internet.

Keeping in mind the possible adverse effects of relying on Internet-based health news, a listicle of pointers to keep in mind while reading information, to identify fake health news is given below. As the list is non-exhaustive, a doctor must always be consulted before relying on any advice pertaining to an individual’s health.

  • Looking out for the source of the information-

Generally, the health-related news is published by newspapers, health-based websites, publications, researchers and broadcasting organizations. We understand how easy it is to present, publicize and promote any information on the internet. Thus, only an article or piece of information presented by a reputable source can only be taken into consideration. The claims backed by unreliable or disreputable sources are mostly false in nature.

  • Checking the credibility of the mentioned reviewers and journals

Along with taking into account the publishing agency, it is quintessential to check for the credibility of the peer reviewers, researchers, and journals with a good reputation.

  • Not trusting the concept of dubious conspiracy theories

It is generally stated that the news being floated by the said article is a “secret” or “what doctors want to hide”. By nature, it is a doctor’s responsibility to treat a patient. So it is to be taken into consideration that if they know a remedy or have an alternative treatment method, that is appropriate, they would not keep it a secret.

  • Beware of fancy statistical data claims

Most of the false claims or fake health news consists of multiple numerical data representations. For example, statistics regarding death toll from a certain disease. Information like this is often fabricated as it is impossible to ascertain an exact figure.

  • Checking the plausibility of the claim

A claim that appears to be too good to be true almost always turns out to be false. Even though the reliability of the source is the main defining factor of the nature of the news, absurd claims can be easily distinctively identified.

  • Looking out for news that question the credibility of a doctor or any medical professional

A doctor is obligated to resolve all medical conditions with the best possible treatment. Furthermore, they are bound by their Hippocratic Oath to provide patients with factually verified information regarding their conditions, disorder, diseases, and treatment. Thus, any claim questioning the credibility of a doctor is often false.

  • Always check for evidence provided to support the claim made

The Internet is a vast pool of information. It is very important to thoroughly review and check for all available evidence relating to a particular claim before believing it.

  • Check if the solution or treatment has been tested on humans

Most claims and clinical trials have not yet been conducted on humans. It is very important to acknowledge this fact and carefully review a history of human trials.

  • Always look for counter arguments online

Before relying on any stated health-related information on the internet, it is advisable to always search for the myths and counter-arguments associated with the stated argument or claim. Websites like DocPrime provide information that helps in underlining the opposing claims or scientific data relating to the news. All myths and hoaxes are also easily available for review on the internet.

  • Take note of the investor behind the said research

Sometimes institutions and firms who have a chance of gaining benefit from the prevalence of certain claims in the market end up propagating wasteful health claims. For example, a chocolate manufacturer would derive benefit from associating the medical benefits of chocolate. This may not hold true in all situations and may act as misleading claims for some individuals.

  • Pay heed to the personal gain to any institution (if any)

Most institutions back the promotion of certain claims and news. Although it is easy to omit who is actually deriving benefit from the propagation of such news, it is always advisable to read between the lines in order to protect oneself from falling prey to claims which are false and have a possibility of causing harm.

The above mentioned are a few pointers to keep in mind while reading and accessing health-related news being circulated over the internet.

It is always advisable to consult a doctor or a medical expert before deriving a conclusion from a claim or following suggestions.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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