4 July 1998

Beware Dodgy Medical Advice On The Net

With enough medical information on the World Wide Web to give even Yahoo the shakes, researchers at Ohio State University are warning that much of the advice on offer may be inaccurate or out of date.

In a study published in the June issue of Pediatrics, the team searched for information on a typical childhood complaint in the way a concerned parent might. They found that only 20 percent of sites sponsored by traditional medical sources used the most recent medical guidelines when offering advice on how to treat diarrhoea.

Misleading statements such as "diarrhoea is the body's method to eliminate undesirable elements", "diarrhoea is caused by eating greasy junk food" and "restrict oral intake" during diarrhoea - all of which contradict guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) - were found in abundance, say the researchers.

Inappropriate recommendations from university-based medical centres included advising several hours of fasting for infants with diarrhoea and highly-structured, ritualistic diets. According to the AAP, diarrhoea is usually caused by a virus, and the best way to battle the illness is to give the child copious amounts of fluids.

"The big issue is that major hospitals and medical centres aren't policing what they're putting out there," says Hugo McClung, professor of paediatrics and co-author of the study. "There is a lack of oversight of what's put on the Web."