Sunday, January 11, 2015

Who Ya' Gonna Trust

Who Do YOU Trust?  Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil?  Men’s Health? Aunt Martha?
There's a lot of questionable information out there on exercise, nutrition, and diet.  Small studies often are hyped by TV personalities or media outlets, print or online – but they don’t tell you if it’s a preliminary study or that they have commercial ties to medications or products.

Is It Reliable?  One of my grad school professors described 3 tiers of reliability.  At the top are reputable journals which publish only peer reviewed papers on creditable research.  Examples:  Journal of the American Medical Association, British Journal of Medicine,  and New England Journal of Medicine. The articles generally are very technical and tough reading for the average person.

Next are publications that describe the research.  They will generally give you enough information to either look into the topic yourself or go to the original research.  In this category are health newsletters like UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, Harvard Nutrition Letter, and Nutrition Actionline Newsletter.  Look for websites sponsored by government entities, university or reputable industry associations.

Examples:  American Medical Association, American Pharmaceutical Association, American Dietetic Association,  American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, National Academy of Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Food & Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control, US Department of Agriculture (Food & Drug Administration),

At the bottom of my professor’s pyramid are media publications – magazines, newspapers, TV shows, websites with advertising, and Wikipedia.  Some of these are more reliable than others – Consumer Reports On Health, and the New York Times Health column are two better publications written at this level.

Questions You Should Ask:
Definitive answers are hard to come by in scientific research.  Supporting evidence requires more time consuming studies, involving years of studies.  So folks try for quick answers when there is a lack of scientific consensus, and want to believe what they hear or read.  

Do be skeptical of the “latest” diet, breakthrough or miraculous cure.  Ask what evidence there is, for this “new” breakthrough?  Is it a double blinded study with reasonably large numbers of participants?  How big is the study?  And who funded it?  More responsible publications will give you the answers to some of these questions.

If the information is on television or a website, ask who sponsors it?  Is there any advertising on the site?  What are they selling? 

Cross check the information with another source.  Although such sites as WebMD and LiveStrong have an abundance of good information, all accept advertising.    WebMD’s credibility was recently called into question, when it was revealed that the site accepts funding from Eli Lilly, a large pharmaceutical company.*  Mayo clinic does have banner ads, but has a good reputation.

As for television, suffice it to say "Biggest Loser" is not one of my favorite shows, and as for Dr. Oz, see this article.  Consider such shows as entertainment, with occasional nuggets of information.

Among print publications, Consumer Reports was rated at the top of a survey by the American Council on Science & Health for accuracy of its nutrition information.

Information sources that I recommend & use:
  • UC Berkeley Wellness Letter 
  • Harvard Health Letter.
  • CSPI Nutrition Actionline Newsletter – very reasonable, with no advertising (but they will ask for donations frequently).
  • ChooseMyPlate.Gov – a plethora of information on nutrition, diets and weight loss.  Has an excellent diet tracker. 
  • – information on supplements.  Analyses of different brands.  A subscription site. 
  • American Dietetic Association website
These fitness organizations & their websites are good sources of exercise information:
  • American College of Sports Medicine ( – probably the most definitive word in exercise science;  has a more medically based outlook.
  • National Association of Sports Medicine ( – also an excellent source of research based information.  More geared towards sports. 
  • American Council on Exercise ( -  their site contains a number of fitness program tools.  They do promote their online training system, but its not blatant.
  • IDEA ( – a site for exercise professionals, but they do have a good article library, and food & nutrition tips
Next time:  How do I get started?  What should I eat?  These are probably two of the most common questions a fitness professional hears.  We’ll attempt to provide some answers next time. 

Till then – here’s a healthy recipe from the American Institute for Cancer Research:  Easy Baked Apples With Walnuts & Raisins It can be prepared in advance, and can be baked or made in a slow cooker.  It is versatile as a low sugar dessert or breakfast with granola or yogurt added.  It's a tasty way to get your daily fruit servings in, while providing, omega 3 fatty acids, flavonoids & fiber.

*For more information:  WebMD vs Mayo Clinic  and  WebMD
©Fitness Spark Personal Training, January, 2015.

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