Just kidding. I tricked you.
Wait, don’t leave! I might not have a simple, five-step program to help you squeeze into that <insert description of size> <insert item of clothing>, but I’m still full of good advice!
If you’ve ever looked for advice on the Internet (or even if you haven’t), I’m sure you’ve come across a similar headline proposing “<x> easy steps” to accomplish some shining, seemingly unattainable goal. Shed 30 pounds. Smooth out wrinkles. Get a six pack in three weeks. All with this one, simple trick, developed by a suburban mom! Doctors hate her!
Let me put your mind at ease: it is very unlikely that ad providers on the Internet have figured out the secret to hack the human body. Still, you just have to click on it, don’t you?
I noticed a disgruntling phenomenon while doing research for my recent post on The French Paradox. I was probing Google with the search term “wine and the French Paradox” to explore the hypothesized health benefits of red wine. The first article to catch my attention bore the a tantalizing title: Skinny with wine: French Paradox diet. The article was surprisingly robust, exploring a few reasons for the mysterious effects of the French Paradox and only devoting a single short section to wine. However, an article bearing the title “potential sociological and medical explanations for the French Paradox” would garner many fewer readers than “how to stay skinny by drinking wine.”
Sensationalist headlines aren’t exactly newsworthy (pardon the pun), nor can we fault bloggers for their desire to ensnare as many readers as possible. However, cleverly-worded titles aren’t the only ways in which content creators can skew information on the Internet.
The most dangerous form of sensationalism on the Internet may stem from our desire to make health something that it isn’t: black and white. We crave answers: is some food item healthy, or isn’t it? Will this diet or habit make that crucial difference? We’re always searching for that miracle solution; reading into the nuances and in-betweens is time-consuming, confusing, and often leaves us feeling that there is no right answer. It’s no wonder that readers prefer to click on articles with a headline that promises solutions and cuts out the messy gray areas! “Skinny with wine?” Yes, please! “An analysis of the health benefits and drawbacks of red wine consumption?” No, thanks!
Another food that has been subjected to this treatment is dark chocolate. Even WebMD is getting in on the trend! This article is actually named “Dark chocolate is healthy chocolate”! Yes, dark chocolate has fantastic properties, but I am willing to bet that someone out there read a headline like this and thought “wow, I can finally justify eating all of this chocolate!”
It doesn’t help that we generally use the Internet as a confirmation bias engine.
If I search “dark chocolate is healthy”, the Internet will make it so!
It’s time we sorted out the difference between having health benefits and being healthy. A strawberry tart has health benefits due to its strawberry crown. A strawberry tart is not healthy.
But it has all of this fruit on top!
As I learned from my Dad, there is no pure healthy and unhealthy. Beans are full of fiber and protein, but can cause leaky gut if improperly prepared. Collard greens are wonderful for lowering cholesterol, but may occasionally contain high levels of lead. Kombucha has helpful probiotics that can aid your stomach or upset it.
Still think healthy eating can be black-and-white issue?
Should you be worried? No! People have survived under these gray-area health conditions for… well, as long as there have been people. The difference between now and then is the large quantity of research materials we have at our fingertips. Don’t fall into the shallow trap of sensationalism when there are so many other excellent resources that don’t shy away from the facts just for a few extra clicks.
So next time you read an article claiming that red wine “stops the effects of a high-fat diet“, take it with a grain of salt and remember that, unfortunately, health is not this simple, and that’s what makes it interesting!