YONKERS, NY -- More than a quarter of the Web’s 20 most-trafficked diet information sites lack basic citing of information sources, the degree to which advertising may or may not influence content, and credentials or potential biases of their authors, say diet site ratings from the Consumer Reports WebWatch and the Health Improvement Institute.
"Some of these sites, and sections of major sites, are excellent diet and weight-loss resources," says Beau Brendler, Consumer Reports WebWatch’s director. "Others appear driven by marketing goals."
The 19 raters who tested the sites include medical doctors, health care industry executives, medical librarians, and health Web site senior producers and executives. A three-person committee reviewed their qualifications to be raters.
"Consumers need to know how well a diet plan works, how much it costs and that weight management information is reliable," says Peter Goldschmidt, president and founder of the Health Improvement Institute. "Consumers should choose sites with strong contents, and sound editorial policies and procedures. These ratings enable such choices."
Raters tested sites with for-pay diet and self-help programs by signing up and paying for subscriptions, then examining the content received.
- Of 20 diet sites, or diet and fitness sections of major sites, to be rated, three were given the highest rating of “excellent”: Aetna InteliHealth, MedicineNet.com, and MayoClinic.com.
- Two received a "very good" rating: WebMD and National Institutes of Health.
- Three were given a rating of "good": eDiets.com, RealAge and WeightWatchers.com.
- Six sites rated "fair": MSN Health & Fitness, About Health & Fitness, Yahoo! Health, The Sonoma Diet, The Biggest Loser Club and The South Beach Diet Online.
- Six were given the lowest rating of "poor": AOL Health, QualityHealth.com, Light 'n Fit, Healthology, Prevention.com and TrimLife.
- Three of the 20 sites are non-profit, or run by non-profit ventures that accept advertising. Two of these received the highest rating.
- The best sites offered a clear distinction between editorial content and sponsored content.
- Sites rated "excellent" included unbiased, peer-reviewed content written by health professionals.
- Sites rated "fair and "poor" often failed to disclose that health content and surveys were sponsored by advertisers, did not clearly display policies to correct false, misleading or incorrect information, and seemed to be functioning as marketing sites for health products.
Overall ratings scores were determined from 10 different attributes, including identity, advertising and sponsorship disclosure, ease of use, privacy, contents, authorship, references, editorial policies, and diet self-help plans. Those sites that did not have plans were not penalized in scoring. The ratings do not test the scientific accuracy and validity of treatments described, nor the medical effectiveness of specific diets. However, a number of the ratings attributes were intended to evaluate information quality. Sites that scored well in contents, authorship, references and transparency of editorial policies scored the highest overall.
For more on the ratings, visit www.healthratings.org