Good health depends on people making good choices. Good choices depend on their ability to obtain, process, understand and judge the trustworthiness of the relevant health information. Most people lack that ability and they lack 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.

Most people are unable to assess claims

Most health messages simply tell people what to do or make a claim without providing adequate information for people to make informed choices. In addition, health and science education tends towards rote learning rather than critical thinking, so most people never learn how to assess health claims or make informed health choices.

Unreliable claims lead to harm and waste

People’s mistaken trust in unreliable claims has led to millions of unnecessary deaths, untold suffering, and billions of dollars being wasted every year. Conversely, failure to believe and act on reliable claims also leads to unnecessary suffering and inefficient use of resources. Economically disadvantaged people suffer disproportionately, as they can least afford to waste resources.

Reliable information is hard to access

Huge efforts have gone into health research and into summarizing what we know from that research. However, most people do not have easy access to that information. Now we need to harness that information by making sure people everywhere have easy access to research findings in formats that are understandable and useful to them. We need to empower them to use it, to make well-informed choices, and to improve global health.