I’m frequently emailed articles about a wide range of fitness topics from friends, family, and BuiltLean readers. I also do a lot of my own investigating to stay current with health & fitness trends and research. But how do you know if what you’re reading is accurate, valid, and trustworthy?
No matter what an article or website is trying to prove or sell, I believe there are some key signs that the most trustworthy health & fitness websites share. Knowing these signs will help you determine the validity of the information you’re reading, or figure out if you should consider purchasing a product from the website.
The following 7 signs are adapted from principles published by HonCode, which is a Foundation that assesses the trustworthiness of health websites and certifies sites that fulfill their strict qualifications and standards. BuiltLean’s editors, medical reviewers, and I have spent a lot of time and effort to ensure BuiltLean is in accordance with HonCode’s principles.
Here are the top signs to look for when determining the reliability and usefulness of a health & fitness resource.
I think this is the most important attribute that separates the wheat from the chaff when reading health & fitness information and identifying credible websites. If an article, or website in general, does not support health claims with a research reference, it’s hard to trust the author or the website.
Making a health claim is a really big deal, such as “X” food causes cancer, kettlebell swings burn more calories than running, or that a certain percentage of the population is gluten intolerant. When presenting a health claim, unless the research is overwhelmingly conclusive, the claim should include words like “may” or “can”.
Of course, just because a health claim is referenced, doesn’t mean the reference actually supports the claim being made. It’s entirely possible a research paper with serious flaws was used to support a claim. When viewing references, ideally the reference will be an AMA- or MLA-style citation, and should include a direct link to the research abstract or full report.
An article should include the author’s name with a link to the author’s bio, which should include that author’s qualifications.
While it’s hard to believe, some websites do not include the name of the author in the article, or include a link to the author’s bio. Ideally, the author writing a given article will have considerable expertise with that specific topic through both research and patient/client experience.
In the last couple of years, we’ve structured BuiltLean so that each contributor writes about topics they are experts on. For example, we have a nutrition scientist writing about nutrition-related topics, and a physical therapist who writes about corrective exercise and rehabilitation.
A current trend, even among popular websites, is to not show the date the article was published. Why are websites not showing this? There are a couple possible explanations:
1) Some websites do not want the publication date to show up in Google search results, which can prevent a reader from clicking on the article.
2) An article that is not “fresh”, or recently published may cause a reader to immediately click off the site
In addition to the publication date, it’s ideal for a website to also show the date an article was updated. So if an article was written on August 5, 2010 but updated September 15, 2015, both dates will be shown.
Some of the most shared health & fitness articles offer one specific viewpoint about a given topic. While an article doesn’t need to be perfectly balanced, I think that completely disregarding other viewpoints and perspectives is a big mistake. A great article on a given topic should offer different viewpoints so the reader can draw his or her own conclusions.
Let’s say we’re reading an article that explores Are Grains Healthy? In my opinion, it’s critical that the article also list a few reasons why some believe grains are unhealthy. When opposing viewpoints are expressed, it makes the article stronger, more well-rounded, and more educational. It doesn’t necessarily mean the article’s conclusion is accurate, but addressing opposing points-of-view adds value to the information being shared.
I’m sure you’ve come across websites displaying ads that purposely look like the website’s content, which lead to more clicks and more revenue. Advertisements should be labeled and presented so they are distinct from editorial content.
If you want to express an issue you have with the veracity of an article, or contact a company, you should absolutely be able to do so.
When I first started BuiltLean, I answered every fitness question I received, literally thousands of them. While we don’t answer personal fitness questions via email anymore (except from customers), we do review and respond to questions relating to the reliability of the information on our website, and even the occasional spelling or grammatical error an astute reader finds. Here’s our contact form: BuiltLean Contact.
I’m also a big fan of having a comment section so readers can interact directly with the author of an article. This allows questions to easily be answered, or for issues to be amended if a reader reaches out.
The company that owns the website should be listed, typically in the footer. If no company is listed on a website, that’s a red flag. In addition, easily accessible information about the company and the funding sources should be available.
I hope this article has helped give you some insights into becoming a smarter consumer of fitness information and products.