Publication Date



The American Journal of Medicine


BACKGROUND: Adults use the Internet for weight loss information, sometimes by participating in discussion forums. Our purpose was to analyze the quality of advice exchanged on these forums.

METHODS: This was a retrospective analysis of messages posted to 18 Internet weight loss forums during 1 month in 2006. Advice was evaluated for congruence with clinical guidelines; potential for causing harm; and subsequent correction when it was contradictory to guidelines (erroneous) or potentially harmful. Message- and forum-specific characteristics were evaluated as predictors of advice quality and self-correction.

RESULTS: Of 3368 initial messages, 266 (7.9%) were requests for advice. Of 654 provisions of advice, 56 (8.6%) were erroneous and 19 of these 56 (34%) were subsequently corrected. Forty-three (6.6%) provisions of advice were harmful, and 12 of these 43 (28%) were subsequently corrected. Messages from low-activity forums (fewer messages) were more likely than those from high-activity forums to be erroneous (10.6% vs 2.4%, P < .001) or harmful (8.4% vs 1.2%, P < .001). In high-activity forums, 2 of 4 (50%) erroneous provisions of advice and 2 of 2 (100%) potentially harmful provisions of advice were corrected by subsequent postings. Compared with general weight loss advice, medication-related advice was more likely to be erroneous (P = .02) or harmful (P = .01).

CONCLUSIONS: Most advice posted on highly active Internet weight loss forums is not erroneous or harmful. However, clinical and research strategies are needed to address the quality of medication-related advice.


Adult, Counseling, Humans, Internet, Quality of Health Care, Retrospective Studies, Weight Loss



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