Accuracy of online discussion forums on common childhood ailments




Consumer Health Information, Electronic Discussion Groups, Evidence-Based Medicine, Child Health


Objectives: The research sought to determine if the health advice provided in online discussion forms aimed at parents of young children is accurate and in agreement with evidence found in evidence-based resources and to discover whether or not these forums are an avenue for misinformation.

Methods: To determine which online forums to use, Google was searched using five common childhood ailments. Forums that appeared five or more times in the first five pages of the Google search for each question were considered. Of these forums, those that met the inclusion criteria were used. Data from a six-month time period was collected and categorized from the discussion forums to analyze the advice being provided about common childhood ailments. Evidence-based resources were used to analyze the accuracy of the advice provided.

Results: Two discussion forums were chosen for analysis. Seventy-four questions from one and 131 questions from the other were health related. Data were not analyzed together. Of the health-related questions on the 2 forums, 65.5% and 51.8%, respectively, provided some type of advice. Of the advice provided, 54.1% and 47.2%, respectively, agreed with the evidence provided in evidence-based resources. A further 16.2% and 6.3% was refuted or was somewhat refuted by the evidence found in evidence-based resources.

Conclusion: While roughly half of the health-related advice provided in online discussion forums aimed at parents of young children is accurate, only a small portion of the advice is incorrect; therefore, these sources are not a major concern for the spread of misinformation.

Author Biography

Alison Farrell, Public Services Librarian, Health Sciences Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL

Public Services Librarian 

Health Sciences Library 

Memorial University of Newfoundland


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Original Investigation