About 80 percent of Internet users in the United States have gone online to seek information about one of 17 health topics, according to the reputable Pew Internet Project, which reported today that only 25 percent check to see if the information is reliable and up to date.
It would be easy to blame consumers for not doing their homework, but according to Susannah Fox, who led the survey, the problem lies mostly with the Web sites themselves; only 2 percent of the most popular ones offer sources and dates for their information.
The other problem is that when you use a search engine, the responses you get are surrounded by ads for treatment centers and snake oil cures. Type in “obesity” and get Hoodia. Type in “Hoodia” and get 13.2 million hits.
Fortunately, says Fox, most people are not using the Web as a substitute for a doctor’s advice but to confirm their own decisions or to reassure themselves.
But let’s not let consumers off the hook totally until Internet sales of unregulated supplements return to Earth.