Need health advice? Stay away from health mags, study suggests

None of the magazines covered smoking, obesity or immunisation (Getty)
None of the magazines covered smoking, obesity or immunisation (Getty)

Magazines with the word 'health' in their name give generally terrible health advice, an Australian study has found.

Perhaps surprisingly, teen magazine Dolly was the best of the 10 magazines looked at, at least when it came to health matters.

"Overall, the quality of advice presented in magazines was low," says Amanda Wilson of the University of Newcastle, author of the study.

Articles from 10 magazines were looked at: Women's Weekly, Woman's Day, New Idea, Cosmopolitan, Cleo, Women's Health, Dolly, Girlfriend, Men's Health and Good Health.

They were rated on 10 criteria, including whether the advice was based on evidence, potential side effects were mentioned and readers were urged to see a doctor.

"There is evidence that shows media coverage can affect health behaviour, such as the rise in the number of mammogram appointments after Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with breast cancer," says Dr Wilson.

She found magazines specifically about health were significantly worse than those targeted at adolescent girls.

Women's Health was the worst offender, followed by New Idea and Good Health. Only Dolly got a perfect score.

"In Dolly, all reader questions were responded to in an accessible, non-judgmental manner with encouragement to seek help from appropriate health professionals," the study reads.

"This magazine provided excellent examples of ethical ways to deliver health advice and also highlighted the need for this type of advice to be provided for this particular age group."

The two most common topics covered by the magazines were "genitourinary issues and the use of vitamins and minerals", and these were often accompanied by advertisements for related products, "suggesting a possible financial conflict of interest".

None of the magazines covered smoking, obesity or immunisation.

"The findings present here are important because magazines are not generally subjected to the same rigours of news journalism and the content is likely to be influenced by companies advertising 'health' products and interventions," says Dr Wilson.

The research was published Monday in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.