Many health care websites are notoriously misleading. Yet more families than ever turn to the Internet for their questions about health and medicine — and they’re often getting the wrong answers. After hundreds of sites pushed false claims about the alleged dangers of measles vaccines, for example, measles reemerged in 2019 in several countries, including in the United States after the disease was declared eliminated two decades ago.
NewsGuard knows that making sense of health issues can be difficult, frustrating, and also crucially important. Trained journalists at NewsGuard have analyzed hundreds of health sites to provide people around the world with the information they need to know when a site is telling them the truth, and when it’s giving them false information.
NewsGuard’s rating process for health information sites relies on nine journalistic criteria that assess basic practices of credibility and transparency.
When addressing false health claims, NewsGuard relies on peer-reviewed medical research and major health and science authorities. The Nutrition Label for NaturalNews.com, for example, has 67 citations about the site, including to debunk its hoax that vaccines cause autism. To address a claim made on HealthImpactNews.com that vaccinations were to blame for a 2019 measles outbreak in New York, NewsGuard cited information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study published in the journal Vaccine, and vaccination data from the Rockland County, New York health department.
Sometimes health sites have doctors review medical information. NewsGuard will look at whether those doctors have received payments from pharmaceutical companies — and if so, whether the site discloses that as a possible conflict of interest.
Here are examples of health care sites that NewsGuard has determined get the highest marks for credibility and transparency.
- CDC.gov: The website for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control publishes straightforward and transparent information about health, safety, and security threats.
- CancerResearchUK.com: This London-based nonprofit is a global leader in cancer research, and the site provides extensive resources about different types of cancer, symptoms, treatment, and coping with the disease.
- WebMD.com: The well-known site is not affiliated with a medical institution or research organization, but WebMD has doctors on staff to approve all content and offer guidance to writers and editors.
Some of the best-known sites publish accurate health information but don’t meet NewsGuard’s standards for transparency — meaning they might not provide adequate information about their writers and owners. But they’re still trustworthy resources.
- HealthyChildren.org: Run by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the site publishes medical and child care advice for parents.
- Cancer.gov: The U.S. National Cancer Institute is dedicated to cancer research, and the site’s resources, including the “Annual Report to the Nation” on cancer rates, provide important information about the disease.
- MayoClinic.org: The Mayo Clinic, based in Minnesota, is one of the most renowned hospital systems in the world. All medical content published on the site has been vetted by physicians.
- ClevelandClinic.org: The Cleveland Clinic is another widely respected hospital system, and its website publishes detailed information about diseases and treatments, as well as shorter articles about health, diet, exercise, and chronic pain.
Many health sites that claim they promote natural or alternative medicine actually provide inaccurate information about vaccines, medical conditions, treatment, and more. Avoid these.
- NaturalNews.com: One in a network of over 200 sites that push health-related conspiracy theories, NaturalNews.com called the 2019 measles outbreak a “false flag” and incorrectly claimed the measles vaccine caused the outbreak.
- Herbs-Info.com: This site — which gets many more visitors than the site of the Mayo Clinic — wrongly claims that vaccinated children are sicker than those who did not get vaccines.
- HealthImpactNews.com: In addition to publishing untrue information about vaccines, the site promotes potentially dangerous “cures” for a number of medical conditions.
False health information appears not just on health-centered sites: It’s all over the web, including on unreliable political sites and sites that peddle conspiracy theories.