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Online nutrition data is (mostly) trustworthy: ADA

By Shane Starling , 28-Jan-2010
Last updated on 28-Jan-2010 at 18:45 GMT

An American Dietetic Association (ADA) survey has found 99 percent of people consider most of the nutrition information they find on the internet to be trustworthy, albeit narrowed down to two or three websites.

The ADA’s survey of more than 1000 Americans found consumer interest in food and nutrition information is high, but concerns remained about the quality of some of the information disseminated on the internet.

For this reason, while only one percent of respondents answered “no” to the question: “Do you feel that the food/nutrition information you get on the Internet is reliable and trustworthy?”, 61 percent said they at times found it difficult to locate accurate food and nutrition information from web sources.

Nearly seven in ten people therefore tended to revisit trusted websites, even while 78 per cent said they were hungry for new, reliable sources of online information.

“Unfortunately, we know from experience that not all sites are created equal and not all food and nutrition information you find online is reliable,” said registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson, Dawn Jackson Blatner.

“From weight-loss cookies to acai diet beverages, there are countless web sites promising magic cures. ADA’s survey shows consumer interest in food and nutrition information is high, and we need to be concerned about the credibility of online sources.”

She said a healthy level of skepticism and scrutiny could yield results for consumers.

“You wouldn’t take advice from someone who walked up to you on the street and told you all of your health concerns could be solved with a special food item,” Blatner said, “but that is essentially what people are doing when they take nutrition advice from some of these web sites. You don’t want to pin your health on just any site to show up on a Google search.”

The ASA recommended seeking advice from registered dietitians.

The survey was conducted online in December 2009 by Impulse Research with a random sample of 1,041 men and women aged 18 and older.

In a 2008 report, the ADA noted the internet had replaced newspapers, to become the third most popular source of food and nutrition information behind television and magazines.

Between 2002 and 2008, the internet went from being used an information source by 13 percent of respondents to 24 percent of respondents. In the same period newspaper use dropped from 33 percent to 19 percent.

“Almost every leading source of information has dropped in popularity in the past six years except for the Internet,” the ADA observed.

In 2008, a league table of credible sources read as follows:

  • Registered dietitian: 78%
  • Nutritionist: 78%
  • Doctor: 61%
  • Nurse: 57%
  • USDA/MyPyramid: 46%
  • References/books: 43%
  • School: 39%
  • Personal trainer: 39%
  • Package labels: 35%
  • Health club/gym: 29%
  • Magazines: 25%
  • Internet: 22%
  • Newspapers: 21%
  • Family/friends: 17%
  • TV: 14%
  • Radio: 13%
  • Grocery store: 11%
  • Food manufacturers: 9%

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