As with many issues, consumers all over the world are turning to the internet for information. This includes everything from movie reviews, political opinion, car part specifications, genealogical research and health information. There is a problem, however, and I call it the wikidization of information.

Wikipedia is an outstanding collaborative work of volunteers to catalog and define almost everything in the world. The problem is that it is not peer reviewed, it is subject to a loose editorial control at best and can be flat out wrong. This is not to say that it does not serve a useful purpose. It is a great starting point to frame a debate or determine the level of controversy around a topic. It is unacceptable as a research reference in scholarly work.

People rarely know how to reach out for source documentation on a topic. They often stop at the first piece of information which confirms their preconceived notions. Rarely do they consider the possible biases of information sources and too frequently distrust official sites, believing them to be dishonest or unscrupulous.

For example, many people seek out a low calorie diet. Concerned by the claims raised in the 1970s about saccharin, they seek out “natural” sugar substitutes. This can be unrefined sugars, molasses and products such as stevia. What few US citizens realize is that stevia is not a food.

Stevia is not approved as a food ingredient in the United States. However, it is sold as a “dietary supplement.” According to the provisions of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which was passed in 1994, dietary supplements do not need FDA approval before they are marketed, in the way that new food additives or drugs do. Dietary supplements that contain stevia cannot legally be promoted as sugar substitutes in the U.S., and stevia cannot be used as an ingredient in foods. The sale of the supplements is legal, however. (ACSH Document 20060417_sugar_web)

This has led to uninformed decisions about food and how we eat. In my opinion, a balanced, sensible diet – coupled with exercise – is the key to a healthy, happy life. Individuals need to make informed decisions and resist being swayed by questionable or inflammatory information. The American Council on Science and Health encourages individuals to seek information from reliable sources. From the abovementioned publication;

Distinguishing between reliable and unreliable information sources on the World Wide Web can be challenging. Simply entering a topic into an Internet search engine is not the best way to obtain science-based advice. A better approach is to visit trustworthy health-related Web sites, such as the National Library of Medicine site, the U.S. government’s health clearinghouse site, the sites of government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or the sites of trusted professional organizations or voluntary groups such as the American Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association, or the American Cancer Society , and then search within the collections of documents at these sites for information on a specific topic. In instances where something sounds too good — or too horrible — to be true, it’s also a good idea to see whether the topic in question is discussed on the Urban Legends Reference Pages and/or Quackwatch. Both sites are reliable, and they are frequently updated with new information about various health myths and misinformation.

Caveat emptor.


sonicfrog said…
Uh, this post just didn't seem to resonate with anybody. Does that mean we all have already broke our New Years resolutions about dieting and eating?
hey. I visited you blog. However, I am too deep in mourning the death of Suzanne Pleshette to keep any of my resolutions at the moment. She was the one I would go straight for, even if she was 23 years older than me. I still remember the crush I had on her in IF IT'S TUESDAY, IT MUST BE BELGIUM....the perfect woman. Sigh.
Citizen Deux said…
The loss of Bob Newhart's best cohort is tragic. However, I will admit that a post about sugar substitutes is in poor taste.

Perhaps if I headlined my posts with taglines like Britney Revealed or Candid Amy Winehouse, I would get more comments. I expect the 4.2 readers to understand if occassionally the tension is not quite so high here.
Fie on you! It is sacreligious to mention Britney and Amy in the same breath! Amy is tragic, heartfelt talent, who will be reverred long after her soon to be untimely death, a cross between Janis Joplin and Judy Garland, as twere. Britney is just...well, tragic. Not only in her life, but her lack of talent, or good sense for that matter. The poor little white trash thing is just a mule in horse harness, puttin' on airs...Amy is the real deal.Please someone make her go to rehab and say yes, yes, yes.
Citizen Deux said…
Winehouse and Spears share the same mold - talented and troubled. Winehouse's sultry volcals and multiple tatoos play just as well to the working class UK crowd and Britney's pop stylings to the suburbanite masses. The only problem is that Winehouse's career, shorter by many years than Spears, is likely never to recover.