Misinformation in eating disorder communications: Implications for science communication policy
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Though eating disorders are a serious public health threat, misinformation about these potentially deadly diseases is widespread. This study examines eating disorder information from a wide variety of sources including medical journals, news reports, and popular social activist authors. Examples of misinformation were identified, and three aspects of eating disorders (prevalence, mortality, and etiology) were chosen as key indicators of scientific illiteracy about those illnesses. A case study approach was then adopted to trace examples of misinformation to their original sources whenever possible. A dozen examples include best-selling books, national eating disorder information clearinghouses; the news media; documentary feature films; and a PBS television Nova documentary program. The results provide an overview of the ways in which valid information becomes flawed, including poor journalism, lack of fact-checking, plagiarism, and typographical errors. Less obvious—and perhaps even more important—much of the misinformation results from scientific research being co-opted to promote specific sociopolitical agendas. These results highlight a significant gap in science communication between researchers, the medical community, and the public regarding these diseases, and recommendations to address the problem are offered.