CSPI highlights top (and bottom) health web sites

WebMD (www.webmd.com) gets top marks from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which scoured the Internet for the best nutrition and health sites for the May issue of its Nutrition Action Healthletter. WebMD is loaded with top-notch news, information, advice and links, while advertisements and material from the site’s sponsors are clearly marked, says CSPI senior nutritionist David Schardt, author of the review. Unfortunately, other commercial sites—and even some nonprofit and government sites—fall short in the content department.

“Finding solid health information online can be a daunting task,” said Schardt. “Simply typing search terms into Google may generate hundreds of thousands of pages—not all of them credible or easy to use. Launching your search in the right place can make all the difference.”

Federal government health sites proved to be a mixed bag, according to CSPI. It recommends Medlineplus (www.medlineplus.gov), a portal run by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Library of Medicine, as well as the government’s main gateway for health information (www.healthfinder.gov). A federal nutrition portal, though,(www.nutrition.gov) is too disorganized to be helpful to most people, generating useless results even for a simple search on “Atkins diet.”

CSPI also recommends finding nutrient contents for 10,000 foods at the Department of Agriculture’s nutrient database (www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp)—although the parent site of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Information Center is less user-friendly. Body mass index (BMI) calculators abound, but the one at a National Institutes of Health (NIH) site(www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi) helps put BMIs in context.

The web site of the American Dietetic Association* (www.eatright.org) didn’t quite live up to its name. Incredibly, says CSPI, that site professes not to know if trans fat is harmful, making the (food-industry funded) association one of the last to learn that trans is linked to damaged hearts and arteries.

CSPI also takes aim at the proliferation of phony “public-service” sites like www.bones-and-osteoporosis.com, or www.diabetes-and-diet.com, which bait visitors with promise of “straight talk” about those diseases, but switch to peddling supplements or drug trials. “Those sites serve doctors and drug companies more than they serve the public,” Schardt says.

* After publication of this article, the ADA removed this reference to trans fat. However, it is preserved in Google's cache here.