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NUTR 241: Applications in Human Nutrition

This page is to be used for doing research for NUTR 241, Applications in Human Nutrition, at Oregon State University.

Evaluating Websites

Evaluating websites can seem really tricky, but it actually involves many of the same skills used in evaluating research articles or other materials for relevance and importance. One technique is to evaluate your website using a set of criteria affectionately known as the CRAAP test (developed by librarians at California State University, Chico). These criteria focus on: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.

Let's take a look at how we might apply the CRAAP test to two websites with information on the South Beach Diet. We won't address every single criteria (don't be tempted to think of this as a checklist).

Mayo Clinic Review of the South Beach Diet

Imagine we wanted to use information from the Mayo Clinic which has a review of the South Beach Diet (see image below).

SUMMARY EVALUATION: Given that the general purpose of the website is information (rather than sales), that the information appears to be current and approved by medical professionals, and that the specific information on the diet includes both benefits and risks, we can be comfortable with citing this webpage article to support our research on this diet. Individual criteria are addressed below.

  • CURRENCY: At the very bottom of the first page of the review we do find a date and it is fairly current (June 2014). This may not have been the date the original article was written but the page may have been reviewed on that date. Also, all the links are all working so we can assume it is reviewed on a regular basis.
  • RELEVANCY: This article on this webpage is clearly very relevant to our search for information on this diet. In fact, the amount of information in the article seems perfect as it includes benefits and risks (found on page 2 of the article), something we did not find on the About page of the diet's official website.
  • AUTHORITY: The Mayo Clinic is a very well-known group of hospitals and specialty medical clinics with a world-wide reputation for excellence. While there is no specific author information on this page, the article is attributed to "Mayo Clinic Staff." There is a link for more information about who contributes content to the website and the names of specific mecidal professionals who have overall responsibility for information accuracy. We can see from the website domain name ending (.org) that it is not a commercial site. We know that .org sites are generally set up by non-for-profit organizations and therefore selling us products is not the main goal of their website. All organizations have a "point of view" and in this case we see that there is an advertisement for the Mayo Clinic Diet on the same page of the review of the South Beach Diet.
  • ACCURACY: A quick web search for additional information about the South Beach Diet generally confirms the substantial information that is provided on this page. It is noteworthy that this webpage article includes information about both the benefits and risks of the plan which indicates a lack of bias. The About page also includes a link to References so that we can go back to the original sources to check the accuracy of the information provided.
  • PURPOSE: The information on this page seems geared at one main purpose: to inform us about the overall structure of the diet and highlight some of its benefits and risks.

Mayo Clinic webpage with South Beach Diet review

South Beach Diet "Official" Website Evaluation

Imagine we wanted to use information from the About page of the South Beach Diet website (see image below).

SUMMARY EVALUATION: Given that the general purpose of the website is to sell us products and services, we may want to look for more unbiased information and not cite this webpage to support our research on this diet. Individual criteria are addressed below. It may, however, be appropriate to cite this page if we are including information in our projects about how "official" diet sites promote their plans.

  • CURRENCY: We do not know how old this information is as there is no date anywhere on the page. But the links are all working so we can assume it is    reviewed on a regular basis.
  • RELEVANCY: The limited information provided is relevant to our topic but it feels rather basic given that the title of this section of the website is "About". It feels like there should be more detailed information on a page like this. Clearly this page is intended to grab our attention and get us thinking about joining the plan (lots of red buttons promising results of some kind if we click...feels like we are being pushed to "buy" a product or service). This is not unbiased information.
  • AUTHORITY: There is no specific author information on this page though we can attribute the information to the staff who run this "official" South Beach Diet site. We can see from the website domain name ending (.com) that it is a commercial site. We know that .com sites are set up to sell products or services and therefore will have substantial bias toward positive information about the things they sell.
  • ACCURACY: A quick web search for additional information about the South Beach Diet generally confirms the basic information that is provided on this page. What we do not see on this page or others on the website is any information about limitations of the diet (every diet has them).
  • PURPOSE: The information on this page seems geared at two main purposes: 1) to inform us about the overall structure of the diet (except for the exercise), and 2) to push us to buy products that support the diet plan (see the comments about big red buttons in RELEVANCY and the reason for .com sites in AUTHORITY).

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Atkins Diet Summary

The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, a free and reputable source of health information for the general public, has a summary of the Atkins diet which includes information about the diet's major claims.

DASH Diet Summary

MedLine Plus, a free and authoritative source of health information for the general public, has a summary of the DASH diet which includes information about the diet's major claims.

Mediterranean Diet Summary

Medline Plus, a free and authoratitative source of health information for the general public, has a summary of the Mediterranean diet which includes information about the diet's major claims.

Vegetarian/Vegan Diet Summary

The National Institutes of Heath (NIH) News in Health newsletter, a free publication from an authoritative source of health information for the general public, has a summary of vegetarian/vegan diets which includes information about the diets' major claims.

Paleo Diet Summary

The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, a free and reputable source of health information for the general public, has a summary of the Paleo diet which includes information about the diet's major claims.

Ornish Diet Summary

WebMD, a free resource for health information for the general public (CAUTION: this site is not completely unbiased), presents an overview of the Ornish diet including some discucssion of the diet's major claims. The WebMD summary of the diet can be checked against the very brief summary of the Ornish diet (see "Low Fat" section of the page) presented by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.