It’s almost impossible to get good diet advice on the web. The Internet provides an endless supply of diet advice however most of it is seriously flawed according to researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

More than half of the Western world’s population are now classified as being overweight or obese. Unsurprisingly, one of the most common places to find health information today is on the Web.

Nutrition experts, however, have criticised the quality of information that is available on the web.

A team from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine examined nearly 200 different programs on the web. These programs were relatively ‘mainstream’, with statements from a supporting doctor, common commercial programs such as ‘Weight Watchers ‘ and many others, and independent programs.

Only 9% of websites adhered to the broad guidelines of the major health agencies, including the American Heart Association.

The dietary advice was varied and often non-specific, lacking details of personalisation and nutrient composition.

Despite the lack of clear nutritional information, 34% of weight loss websites recommend supplements of some kind to boost, kick-start or maximise the benefits of the program.

Most programs, but not all, recommended physical activity as part of their weight loss prescription, however, only 3% made the goal to try to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.  This is 150 minutes or more of moderate physical activity per week.

Behavioural change strategies are important for effective weight loss. Only half the websites had anything about self-monitoring, including tracking weight, food intake or physical activity. Even less was said about stress management and resilience.

Implications

The Internet remains the Wild West of information with far too many commercial weight loss programs providing limited and flawed information on how effective long-term weight loss management may be achieved. The emphasis is on quick fixes, hyped claims and miraculous success. Sadly, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

Last Reviewed: 11/09/2019

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

Bloom B et al. Guideline-concordant weight-loss programs in an urban area are uncommon and difficult to identify through the Internet. Obesity Epub online 10 Feb, 2016 doi:10.1002/oby.21403.