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Evaluating health information in a high-tech world

Reliability and trustworthy sources are vitally important when making health decisions

“I can’t understand what you are saying,” the female voice said.

I was listening to music as I drove in unfamiliar territory. I thought a radio announcer was commenting to a guest.

“I can’t understand what you are saying,” the voice said again.

“I’m not saying anything,” I replied automatically, slightly startled.

Was my phone talking to me? My phone has a voice-activated system. I reached over and noted it was turned off and in my purse.

My heart beat a little faster. I wasn’t sure where I was, and some lady was talking to me from an unknown location in my vehicle.

On the third time I heard the voice, I figured out my portable GPS system was getting signals from the radio.

I knew my new GPS unit could tell me where to turn or to “turn around when possible” when I failed to follow directions. However, I wasn’t expecting it to have a conversation with me. On that day, my GPS directed me down a gravel road when paved roads were nearby. I didn’t always trust it, but I needed the advice.

When I turned off the radio, the GPS stopped making comments and just told me where to turn.

Sometimes, I miss paper maps, including the process of folding them back together.

We are surrounded by technology of all kinds. With my phone and portable GPS navigation unit, I probably had more technology in my vehicle than astronauts had on the original voyage to the moon.

Technology plays a key role in moving information around society, and most of us get our information in several ways. Where are you reading this column? Some of you might be reading an email, others might read it in the newspaper, while others might find it on a website or shared through social media.

Many people use text messaging to communicate with friends and family, and they might use email at work and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat to communicate with family and friends.

About two out of three people get news on social media, but people are skeptical of what they read, according to the Pew Research Center. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are the most commonly used social media sites.

However, according to the 2018 Pew report, 57 per cent expect the news on social media to be mainly inaccurate.

We put up with some false information because we like convenience. Even though some information coming at us is wrong or misleading, we like the quick access.

With so much information available, we need some tools to help us decide its accuracy. California State University at Chico provided an easy-to-remember acronym.

Its tool is called the “CRAAP Test,” and you can pronounce it however you’d like. Remember this tool as you decide what information you can and can not trust.

“Currency” refers to the timeliness of the information. When was it created or posted? Has it been revised or updated?

“Relevance” is the importance of the information. Who is the audience? Is it written at the right level? Have you looked for other sources of information?

“Authority” means the source of the information. Who is the author? What are the author’s credentials? Is the author qualified to write on the topic? Is a publisher or editorial board listed? Is the information posted on a website with .com in its web address? The last three letters at the end of a website URL can give us a clue to accuracy. Usually .com refers to a commercial site, which might be trying to sell you something. A .gov site is a U.S. government site, while a .gc.ca is a Canadian government site. A .edu site usually indicates an educational site, often a university.

“Accuracy” refers to the truthfulness of the content. Was the information reviewed or refereed, or is it a personal opinion? Is it written well in terms of grammar or spelling?

“Purpose” means the reason the information exists. Is it trying to sell you something, entertain you, teach you or persuade you? Is the information objective?

As you interact with information from a variety of sources look for reliability and trustworthiness, especially if you are seeking information that could affect your health.

Check out the resources and links on the NDSU Nourish website to learn more about nutrition, physical activity and health from credible, research-based information.

I think we all can agree that vegetables are good for us and we should eat more of them. Here’s a colourful recipe that young children in our nutrition classes were able to assemble. Even better, they liked this easy-to-make salsa. According to their ratings on a picture-based chart, most awarded the recipe a big smiley face.


Fire-Roasted Black Bean Salsa

  • 1 (15-oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 c. (8 ozs.) canned fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. dried cilantro
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice, fresh or bottled

Drain and rinse beans and drain tomatoes. Chop the white onion and green pepper, and place in a mixing bowl. Add the tomatoes and beans. Add the dried cilantro and lime juice; stir to combine.

Makes eight servings. Serving size is 1/3 cup. Each serving has 60 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 4 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 5 g fibre and 150 milligrams sodium.

This colourful, easy-to-make salsa is great for summertime.
photo: NDSU

About the author

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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