How to properly navigate and understand health news

Overwhelming amount of information complicates process

Accessing information today is easier than ever. With a quick search or swipe of the finger on a smartphone, a seemingly infinite amount of information becomes available. While this extreme ease of access offers many benefits, it may also complicate the process of finding a clear answer to a question due to "information overload." This can be particularly true with health-related news. Most people generally get their health news through online sources, and though some of these are reliable, others may provide confusing or misleading information, making this process even more difficult. There are many potential issues that may affect the validity of a health news source, but by being aware of these and knowing how to properly analyze literature, one can more easily comprehend what they read.

Potential problems with health news stories

There are a number of issues in health news articles that can lead to potential confusion if they are not identified. All health news stories should provide information on the effectiveness of an approach—therapy, prescription medication, supplements or other treatments—when compared to another, and should make it clear how effective that approach was. Stories should also state if results were statistically significant (didn't just happen by chance) to determine how powerful a study is. In addition, it's important to know if the study was performed on humans or animals, and if there were any side effects or limitations.

Important steps to take for better comprehension of health news

By asking a few questions and knowing how to interpret health news, deciphering information will become much easier. Always look to see if approaches were tested on humans or animals and if any alternatives were also discussed. Find out how many people were used in the study and remember that a smaller sample size means less powerful results, as do results not evaluated in the long term. It's also important to see if a study was funded by a group that would benefit from its findings (conflict of interest), or if researchers compared results to other studies and considered factors that would influence results. All of these points can heavily influence the legitimacy of health news stories, but by being careful and knowing what to look for, you can ensure clear understanding of what you're reading.

¬¬-Summarized from an article in NIH