Good health depends on people making good choices. Good choices depend on people’s ability to find, understand and judge the trustworthiness of relevant health information. Many lack these skills and do not have easy access to reliable information.

Claims about health effects are everywhere

There are endless claims about what improves or harms our health: claims about the effects of drugs, surgery and other types of “modern medicine”; claims about lifestyle changes, such as changes to what you eat or how you exercise; claims about herbal remedies and other types of “traditional” or “alternative medicine”; claims about public health and environmental interventions; and claims about changes in how healthcare is delivered, financed and governed.

Some of these claims are true and some are false. Many are unsubstantiated: we do not know whether they are true or false. Unsubstantiated claims about the effects of treatments are often wrong. Consequently, people who believe and act on these claims waste resources and may suffer unnecessarily by doing things that do not help and might be harmful, and by not doing things that do help.

Most people are unable to assess claims

Health messages often simply tell people what to do or not do, rather than provide people with information that could enable them to make an informed health choice. In addition, health and science education tends towards rote learning rather than critical thinking. Consequently, most people never learn how to assess health claims or make informed health choices.

Unreliable claims lead to waste and harm

People’s mistaken trust in unreliable claims has led to billions of dollars being wasted every year, untold suffering and millions of unnecessary deaths. Conversely, failure to believe and act on reliable claims also leads to inefficient use of resources and unnecessary suffering. This creates a disproportionate burden for economically disadvantaged people who can least afford to waste resources.