“Oh, really?” 12 things to help you question health advice

This January, we’re launching a new special series of blogs on Evidently Cochrane: “Oh, really?” 12 things to help you question health advice. Each blog will highlight something important to consider when you’re faced with health claims. You can find all of the blogs here and on Twitter using the hashtag #OhReally.

Bombarded with health advice

“Daily dose of aspirin or ibuprofen helps tackle depression” [1]

“Eat curry to beat dementia” [2]

“New wonder drug that uses Trojan horse tactic to sneak into cells and kill them has treated six forms of cancer” [3]

“Eating a handful of nuts a day “improves brain function by 60%” [4]

We are faced with health claims and advice like this – whether it is about the benefits and harms of particular medicines, exercise regimes, or diets – all the time. We come across it in conversations with friends, family and colleagues, in the media, and while browsing the internet and social media.

In the Internet age, we have much greater access to health information. Yet how do we know whether what we’re told is accurate, fair and reliable? Making sense of health advice, and making judgements about whether it is trustworthy, can be challenging. It is also essential for us all. We all have to make decisions about our health, or the health of our loved ones and, when we do, it’s important that our decisions are well-informed. At best, if we make decisions based on unreliable information, we could waste our time and money. At worst, we could do something harmful, or miss opportunities to do things that could help.

In the Internet age, we have much greater access to health advice and information. Yet how do we know whether what we’re told is accurate, fair and reliable? Photo credit: createhealth.com

How can we make sense of what we’re told about our health?

Being able to question what we read and hear about medicines and health, could equip us to make well-informed health decisions. To help us, a team of researchers known as the Informed Health Choices project team have developed a list of ‘Key Concepts’. Each ‘Key Concept’ is something which is important for people to consider when faced with a claim about a treatment. The team continually revise this list and currently there are 44 Key Concepts to help people to:

  • Recognise when a claim about the effects of treatments has an untrustworthy basis. For example when it is based on faulty logic or may be too good to be true.
  • Recognise when evidence from comparisons of treatments is trustworthy and when it is not, to avoid being misled about the benefits and harms of treatments.
  • Make well-informed choices about treatments. This includes making judgements about the relevance and importance of the evidence to you and how sure you can be about the treatment effects.

12 blogs about 12 things to help you question health advice

These Key Concepts are a useful guide to helping you question health advice, so we’re launching a new series of blogs about them. Whilst all 44 Key Concepts are important (the clue is in the name!), we have selected 12 of them, as the focus for 12 monthly blogs in this series. Each blog will explain and illustrate one Key Concept. Examples include ‘widely used treatments or treatments that have been used for a long time are not necessarily beneficial or safe’ and ‘personal experiences or anecdotes (stories) are an unreliable basis for assessing the effects of most treatments’.

Our bloggers will use examples from their own experiences, whether that is as a patient, a health professional or someone else making decisions about health and they’ll also use examples from Cochrane Reviews to help explain each concept.  Cochrane Reviews are globally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. They bring together all of the best available research on a particular health question, such as ‘are antibiotics effective and safe at reducing symptoms of a sore throat?’ Authors update Cochrane Reviews regularly to incorporate new research, so readers can base their treatment decisions on the most up-to-date and reliable health evidence. The aim is to point you to trusted information.

When and where to find the blogs

We are publishing the first blog in the series on Monday 27th January. From then on, we’ll publish one each month.

This series follows on from the success of a series of blogs written by a group of students for Students 4 Best Evidence. You can read those here. That series began in 2017, when the Collins Dictionary announced its word of the year to be ‘fake news’ [5]. Three years on, concerns about being bombarded with dubious health information and advice are still very much alive. This series feels as timely as ever.

We hope these blogs will encourage you to question the evidence behind the claims you hear or read. Throughout the series we will also be pointing readers towards useful resources to further help you question health advice and make informed choices.

You will be able to find all of the blogs on the Evidently Cochrane website, Facebook and Twitter and we welcome you to join in the conversation using the hashtag #OhReally.

References may be found here.

With thanks to Informed Health Choices.


Selena Ryan-Vig

About Selena Ryan-Vig

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Selena Ryan-Vig is the Communications and Engagement Officer at Cochrane UK. Her role primarily entails disseminating Cochrane evidence in accessible ways, managing Cochrane UK's website and social media accounts, and producing newsletters and infographics. With a colleague, Selena delivers interactive sessions to students from Years 10 to 13 to teach about evidence-based practice and to encourage critical thinking, particularly around healthcare claims made in the media. She also co-delivers talks for students to raise awareness of Cochrane and reliable, evidence-based resources. She has a psychology degree from the University of Bath. During her degree, she spent a placement year working in a national charity which provides support for young women affected by self-injury and training for professionals working with individuals who self-injure.

3 Comments on this post

  1. Avatar

    Interactuar con este apoyo, es acercarnos a hechos verdaderos y confiables de manera más amigable, sin perder actitud crítica.
    EXCELENTE,

    Andrés Vara / Reply
  2. Avatar

    Great initiative!

  3. Avatar

    Excellent idea

    Kathryn Kelly / Reply

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