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  • Writer's picturePaul Hough

Why is there so much conflicting health and fitness information?

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

A vast quantity of health and fitness information available on websites and social media is inaccurate because it has not been written or verified by experts. The circulation of poor-quality information seems less common in other industries, such as engineering or law, probably because fewer people have direct experience in these disciplines. More people feel confident to circulate exercise and nutrition information because they have some experience (e.g., they have tried various exercise programmes and diets). However, experience and expertise are different.


What’s the difference between experience and expertise?

Expertise involves developing a high level of knowledge or skill through training, education, and experience. Experience can be gained from simply doing something over time. For instance, someone who has been exercising for 20 years has extensive experience but not necessarily expertise. Inaccurate information can quickly become widespread amongst the public, which leads to numerous exercise and nutrition misconceptions. The spread of inaccurate information is problematic for fitness professionals as clients may follow advice that could be counterproductive or even unsafe.


My students and clients often learn about new health and fitness research via articles in mainstream news outlets. Unfortunately, even articles and blogs that include scientific references, published within established publications, can be inaccurate (Kininmonth et al., 2017). Once inaccurate content is within the public domain, the misinformation can take a long time to debunk (Lewandowsky et al., 2012).


How can we reduce misinformation in the health and fitness industry?


Evidence-based practice (EBP) broadly involves designing programmes and creating content based on your professional experience, client’s preferences, and scientific evidence. Encouragingly, since the first edition of my book was published, it seems that more practitioners within the health and fitness industry are taking an EBP approach. However, EBP can be oversimplified as it relates to exercise and nutrition. For example, in social media discussions it is relatively common for someone to support or contend a statement with a link to a scientific study. Sharing research is a positive step, as it shows the scientific literature is being recognised and applied within the fitness community; however, EBP is more nuanced than this. One study can never prove that something works or does not work for everyone – this is not how science works. Instead, we can think of each new study as a piece in a puzzle. As the research (puzzle pieces) accumulate, we begin to get a clearer idea if/how something works. Informed conclusions can only be reached by analysing the entirety of literature related to the subject in question, which takes time and expertise.



References

Kininmonth, A., Jamil, N., Almatrouk, N., et al. (2017). Quality assessment of nutrition coverage in the media: a 6-week survey of five popular UK newspapers. BMJ Open, 7(12), e014633.

Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U., Seifert, C., et al. (2012). Misinformation and its correction: continued influence and successful debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(3), 106–131.

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