On Exposing the Flaws of the Online Health Industry

The internet has transformed health care in many favourable ways, including access to online exercise prescriptions, clinical journals on rehabilitation science, and much more. Heck, log onto Youtube and you have a plethora of health professionals in your pocket that can do everything except for the kitchen sink, (and maybe physical manipulations). With the sheer volume of information on the world wide web, there's bound to be a dubious article or two that finds its way to a domain. Unfortunately, the rising presence of faulty "health experts" has caused misinformation to surface at an ever-increasing rate. I'd argue that this trend has gotten so out of hand, that we must equip ourselves with some tools to nail down what is factual, and pry out everything else, (what a previous professor of mine formally dubbed 'bullsh*t trends').

I've fallen prey to suspect, online reports on several occasions throughout my Kinesiology studies - the most notable being a "reputable journal" that was skewing data in favour of a booming pharmaceutical company. There are several things wrong with what's going on in this situation. One, misinformation can directly impact the individual. If someone is seeking a remedy, and they apply a wrongful practice, they may very well get worse. Secondly, greed takes the priority off of the patient and perverts health care into an entity that's conditional to private profit. No matter how much money the industry generates, it won't progress if the "patient comes first" mentality gets thrown to the wayside. This may all sound dramatic, but I believe it to be true. Health care, (and I really mean the entire health and fitness industry) must be grounded by principles of honesty and altruism if it wants to keep up with the rising number of patients in our country.

Although my "reputable journal" example is a drastic one, this misinformation is present on every level: Youtube videos, Instagram pages, tv advertisements, online articles, and conferences alike. In order to change the trajectory of this unfortunate trend, we must first be aware of what is actually right and wrong. Outlined below are five ways to detect the posers from the professionals (in no particular order). Although this isn't an exhaustive list, it's a step in the right direction towards exposing the ugly side of the health industry.

Before reading on, please understand that there are principles of health and fitness that are true and solid, regardless of the publication date. These tips are more targeted towards trends that have surfaced online in the past ten to fifteen years.

Next time you see, read, or hear health advice... ask yourself these five questions! It only takes a few minutes to answer them, and it can save you a whole lot of grief. Trust me, I've been there.

1) Where are the credentials?

This step is quick and easy. What is attached to his or her name? If you can track the certification or degree to a reputable institution or program, it's far more likely that what's being said has some validity and weight to it. Although this isn't a failsafe, it's a strong first step to determining the efficacy of the content. Before continuing, please be aware that not all certifications are equal. A 'personal trainer' could equate to a four year degree, or a weekend course at your local gym. Use your common sense!

2) Is there a motive?

Is the owner of this product or service directly benefiting from your patronage? This one is trickier than the first as it's a bit of a grey area; a clinically sound product may very well belong to a company with a strong business model. The most important thing to consider here is that if there's a direct correlation to your time / money and their profits, chances are there's an increased risk for biases. What do I mean by this? A company is altering data to better promote themselves, like a six pack ab stimulator business claiming that targeted exercise reduces localized fat levels, when this is certainly not the case. I personally find that a red flag pops up every time there's a new health service or product on an advertisement. The legitimacy of information on these platforms is slowly dwindling.

3) How dated is it?

As I mentioned above, there are health principles that will withstand the test of time, such as quality sleep improving your memory, or exercise decreasing the acquisition of chronic disease. However, when it comes to emerging health trends, science is moving at a lightning-quick pace. Many of the concepts that I've learned in school are now outdated... and I just graduated. As a general guideline, try to absorb content that is no more than five years old. Anything beyond these parameters may still be solid, but you must be able to answer question four to know for sure.

4) Can other current sources back it up?

The robust nature of a scientific journal comes from the fact that it’s typically peer reviewed by other professionals in the field to observe for biases. If you find a convincing video on Youtube or Instagram, take some time to investigate if a secondary, quality source can back it up. If you can't find any concrete information on the topic, there's a good chance that insufficient research has been done in that area, or that the content is just complete baloney. This step may take a touch longer than the others, but it's a reliable form of quality control.

5) Where is it located?

Again, I hate to say it, but you just have to be cautious with platforms such as Instagram and Youtube. It's so tragic to see how many creators are out for your wallets. The easiest way to sift through these sites is to apply the tips above. Do they have credentials? Is there a suspicious motive here? Can this be confirmed by a reliable journal or other professional in the field? More than ever, we need to be asking these questions.

Lastly, be sensible with your approach to all of this. AKA don't try to be Sherlock when there's no case for it. At the end of the day, a squat is a squat, so if you're following an online fitness tutorial for how to achieve the movement safely, chances are the trainer will be speaking some truth. I'm more worried about the products or trends that have a larger implication on our health. For example... "Does that crunch really burn belly fat? Is the keto diet really the only way to lose weight? Can I actually run a marathon without training if I wear these socks?" You get the idea. Now go throw that bullsh*t to the wayside and enjoy all of the professional, well-informed content that you worked so hard to find!