Health MISinformation effect examples
Fake news, misinformation, and disinformation is everywhere. It’s pretty infamous in politics, but it’s also very prevalent in other areas like health and wellness, too.
And it’s gotten pretty savvy. Those flashy, sensational, or controversial headlines are designed to grab our attention. Misrepresented study results, “leaked” information, or “whistle-blower” stories can erode our trust–the trust we may have had in the person who’s the subject of the fake news, as well as the trust in the spreader of said fake news.
And the worst part…
That health misinformation doesn’t empower anyone to improve their health.
This is the opposite of what we want, right?
My goal is to help combat the ridiculous amount of fake health news and misinformation out there. I also want to help you be able to respond when your clients ask about the latest headline or conspiracy theory. I want you to be ultra-credible and not get slammed with penalties from massive online platforms who are trying to curb it’s spread.
Let’s join forces to improve public health on an epic scale by helping to stop the dangerous effects of health misinformation.Let's join forces to improve public health on an epic scale by helping to stop the dangerous effects of health misinformation. #PublicHealth #MISinformation Click To Tweet
Too much health misinformation
We live in an unprecedented information age. With 24-7 access to the internet, and 4 million new blog posts being published. Every. Single. Day, it’s impossible to keep track of the information out there.
In fact, the Oxford dictionary declared the 2016 word of the year to be…
It is “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.”(ref)
And, while a lot of the “post-truth” references are political, today I’m going to share a few examples of the effects of misinformation in health and science.
People see and hear new health information every day. Many of them act on it. Some of the information is false. And making health decisions based on fake news can be dangerous. At best it won’t help them at all (or it *may* help via the placebo effect where we feel better because we expect to feel better and/or regression to the mean where you were going to naturally get better, anyway).
At worst, health misinformation can cause injuries, serious illness, or even death as we’ll see below.At best health MISinformation won't help anyone. At worst, it can cause injuries, serious illness, or even deaths, as these examples show. #Health #FakeNews #MisinformationEffectExample Click To Tweet
Examples: Effects of health misinformation on websites
If you haven’t yet heard, many massive online platforms are working harder than ever to counter the spread of misinformation:
- In February 2019 Google released its report on how it fights disinformation in search, news, YouTube, and ads.
- In March 2019 Facebook announced how it plans to tackle vaccine misinformation.
- In May 2019 Google looks for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT) to help its algorithm rank websites/pages for searches.
- In July 2019, Facebook blogged about how it is going to address sensational health claims.
- In July 2019, YouTube updated its policy on harmful and dangerous content that specifically mentions eating disorders and promotion of harmful cures (amongst other things).
- Pinterest has a health misinformation policy.
These platforms will lower the ranking, stop recommending, de-monetize, and remove posts that spread health misinformation.
What do you think about these new policies?
I don’t think these are censorship because they’re not stopping you from saying what you want to your own followers on your platform. I think they don’t want to be liable for the effects that occur because of misinformation found/shared on their platforms. And, yes, their platforms are beyond massive! And every single business with an online presence relies on at least one of these platforms to build their audience and generate leads.
But, you follow me because you don’t spread pseudoscientific misinformation and fake news.
You know that online health information has the ability to positively or negatively affect clients, blog audiences, and public health. This is why, as health and wellness professionals, it’s up to us to provide and share only good quality credible health information.
Let’s find out what health misinformation has done.You follow me because you don't spread pseudoscientific misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news. #Misinformation #FakeNews #Health Click To Tweet
Examples: Effects of health misinformation on people
Here’s why health misinformation is dangerous…
A personal true story about grapefruit juice and medications
An older person I know has many conditions. He is taking many medications. Years ago I warned him not to eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice because I knew it interacted with at least one of the classes of medications he takes.
Forget the fact that I have a Master of Science degree in Biomedical Toxicology and Nutrition. Or that I wrote a paper on this exact mechanism in grad school. Or that I worked in drug safety for 12 years. This science-based information is on the internet…but oftentimes it’s drowned out by a bunch of MISinformation.Science-based information is on the internet...but oftentimes it's drowned out by a bunch of MISinformation. #Health #MISinformation #FakeNews Click To Tweet
So, what does he do?
Goes to look it up himself.
I applaud him taking the initiative to double-check. I wish more people were empowered over their health and learned about their conditions, medications, and lifestyle interventions to be healthier.
But, what did he find?
That the “grapefruit effect” only lasts for two hours. Two. Hours. (It actually lasts over 24 hours).
And so, with this new found MISinformation he felt that the risk wasn’t there as long as he separated his meds from his juice by at least two hours.
Why do I care about this? Why should you or anyone else care?
Here’s what happens:
Grapefruit (and limes, pomelo oranges, and seville oranges) contain a type of compound called a “furanocoumarin.” This compound inhibits an enzyme (CYP 3A4 for #HealthNerds like me) that metabolizes dozens of medications.
In his case it’s a blood pressure medication.
This means that taking the medication and grapefruit he is inadvertently overdosing on his medications. Once cup of grapefruit juice can cause blood levels of certain medications to be 300% higher than when drinking water. By drinking 3 glasses of grapefruit juice a day for 6 days, one single dose of meds can reach 500 percent higher blood levels than with water.
Can you see how having 32-500 percent MORE medication in your blood can be dangerous?Here's how grapefruit and its juice stop your body from metabolizing dozens of medications, resulting in a build-up of higher concentrations in your blood. #GrapefruitEffect #Medication #Interaction Click To Tweet
THIS is one effect of health MISinfomation
And it’s such a simple thing to prevent. A simple and unified message to ditch the grapefruit if you’re taking certain medications (85 meds and counting). Enjoy other citrus fruit (not limes, pomello oranges or seville oranges).
While this example of misinformation, thank goodness, did not result in awful health effects, there are plenty of examples that did. And researchers have been studying and documenting how misinformation spreads and what effects it has.Researchers have been studying and documenting how misinformation spreads and what effects it has. #MISinformation #FakeNews #HealthEffects Click To Tweet
Here’s a recent study…
Sadly, studies show that people can die when they don’t follow credible health information
Cancer is scary. It’s in my family and I’ve lost lots of people to this dreaded disease. I’ve had family members and friends go through multiple surgeries and radiation treatment (I cannot remember any chemo or hormone therapy, though). All of the treatments are pretty hard on the body; some treatments cause downright suffering.
The good thing is that as time goes on and more research is done, survival rates have been increasing. In the US, cancer death rates have been dropping since the 1990s. Survival rates have been increasing in Canada, too.
Sadly, this doesn’t apply to people who have delayed or refused conventional cancer treatment (CCT). In fact, using alternative approaches to cancer treatment increased the risk of death by about 2.5 times.
You read that right. Two and one-half times more people died if they refused CCT and opted instead for alternative medicine (AM), than those who chose the science-based treatment. (The number was 5.68 times for breast cancer, specifically.) And, yes, researchers controlled for variables like cancer type, age, medical insurance, etc. (check out the study linked above).
NOTE: This was an observational case-control study, so nobody was asked to refuse conventional cancer treatment. Researchers found people who had already rejected CCT and compared them to similar people who had used CCT.
The researchers say:
Two and one-half times more people died if they refused conventional cancer therapy and opted instead for alternative medicine. Science saves lives! #Cancer #AlternativeMedicine #Science Click To Tweet
In conclusion, we found that cancer patients who initially chose treatment with AM without CCT were more likely to die. Improved communication between patients and caregivers and greater scrutiny of the use of AM for the initial treatment of cancer is needed.
Why did people choose to reject proven CCT and instead choose unproven AM? At least some of those decisions are due to the effect of health misinformation.
There are plenty of examples of negative effects from health MISinformation. It’s no wonder some of the huge online platforms are actively trying to curb its spread. Let’s stop health MISinformation from getting found and spreading online.
Signing off and toasting: To sharing only research-based credible health information!
Over to you
What kind of health misinformation have you seen and what effects happened? What do you think about the new policies to fight misinformation put out by Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest?
I’d love to know (in the comments below)!
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I'm Leesa Klich, MSc., R.H.N.
Health writer – Blogging expert – Research nerd.
I help health and wellness professionals build their authority with scientific health content. They want to stand out in the crowded, often unqualified, market of entrepreneurs. I help them establish trust with their audiences, add credibility to their services, and save them a ton of time so they don’t have to do the research or writing themselves. To work with me, click here.