McMaster University web portal takes guesswork out of healthy aging

News Oct 14, 2014 Hamilton Mountain News

Expert star-rating filters out web ‘snake oil’ hucksters

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Flu season is approaching and you’re wondering if you should get vaccinated, especially now that you’re getting older and your immune system isn’t what it used to be.

Do you listen to Uncle Harry, who’s 81 and says he never gets flu shots and has been just fine? Aunt Jane, who swears by them?

Or do you try a Google search, which turns up articles like, “8 Damn Good Reasons Not to Get the Flu Shot,” posted on a website purporting to tell “the truth” about vaccines? Is a similar one by a U.S. doctor with a seemingly credible résumé more trustworthy?

A new McMaster University website aims to eliminate the guesswork on this and other issues related to healthy aging by having experts separate the reliable studies from the junk science.

Launched on Oct. 1, the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal allows citizens, care-givers and professionals to browse a wide range of health topics, like vision problems, exercise, nutrition, cancer, bladder control, menopause and hair loss for women.

It rates articles and research on a five-star system, much like movies and CDs, with five being the best.

The portal also offers blogs on topical issues like flu shots, in this case advising that although their effectiveness is less clear for older adults, “in younger adults for example, recent studies that have pooled the most rigorous data, suggest that the influenza vaccine is about 60% effective in preventing influenza.”

Dr. Anthony Levinson, who leads the free website’s design and development, says the goal isn’t to replace visits to the doctor or encourage self-diagnosis, but to help people better inform themselves on their health issues.

Someone on a particular medicine, for instance, can research its effectiveness and discuss concerns with their doctor if the evidence raises doubts, he said.

“People do that now. There’s a lot of talk about ‘Dr. Google.’ People go, they put in a topic and then they’re like, ‘Hey, I read about this snake oil; do you think it’ll work for me?’” Levinson said.

“At a minimum, a more credible source of information that is derived from best evidence may help to narrow the focus of the conversation down a little.”

The website is part of the Larbarge Optimal Aging Initiative, made possible by a $10-million donation by retired bank executive Suzanne Larbarge, now McMaster’s chancellor.

All the online studies are vetted by two experts and evidence summaries are written in plain language to make them accessible to laypersons.

To be considered for inclusion on the website, they must be free to access, not funded by someone trying to sell you something and provide advice on optimal aging that you can act on, like seeing your doctor, staying active or limiting your exposure to something.

Levinson said the expert ratings bring the “same level of rigour and review” as you’d find in medical-journal articles geared toward professionals.

But he said they also take “a middle stance” by including studies with lower star ratings if they offer valuable information or allow users to compare findings.

“Some of those one stars are not great, but we felt in the end it might be better to be a bit like a hotel site where you can see the roach motel as well as the Ritz-Carlton in the list,” he said.

Don’t expect to find anything from U.S. television celebrity Dr. Oz or any source that wants to dig into your wallet, he added.

“When we started reviewing Dr. Oz, every second article was about some relatively unproven snake oil that, coincidentally, he’s selling that supplement that you can buy on his site as well,” he said.

Levinson said the portal is timely because people are living longer, which is seeing some people running track in their 90s but also bringing other challenges.

“It’s not fair to say the human body was not designed to live into the 80s and 90s, but there’s definitely wear and tear on our human physiology that brings with it a lot of age-related health conditions,” he said.

“There’s a lot that we can do in our younger age to improve our aging process, so we want to continue to also emphasize some of the primary and secondary prevention evidence.”

To help the public learn more about the portal, a webinar is scheduled for Oct. 21 from 3 to 4 p.m. Visit mcmasterforumhealth.org to register.

The portal itself can be found at mcmasteroptimalaging.org and also offers regular webinars on health-related topics.

McMaster University web portal takes guesswork out of healthy aging

News Oct 14, 2014 Hamilton Mountain News

Expert star-rating filters out web ‘snake oil’ hucksters

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Flu season is approaching and you’re wondering if you should get vaccinated, especially now that you’re getting older and your immune system isn’t what it used to be.

Do you listen to Uncle Harry, who’s 81 and says he never gets flu shots and has been just fine? Aunt Jane, who swears by them?

Or do you try a Google search, which turns up articles like, “8 Damn Good Reasons Not to Get the Flu Shot,” posted on a website purporting to tell “the truth” about vaccines? Is a similar one by a U.S. doctor with a seemingly credible résumé more trustworthy?

A new McMaster University website aims to eliminate the guesswork on this and other issues related to healthy aging by having experts separate the reliable studies from the junk science.

Launched on Oct. 1, the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal allows citizens, care-givers and professionals to browse a wide range of health topics, like vision problems, exercise, nutrition, cancer, bladder control, menopause and hair loss for women.

It rates articles and research on a five-star system, much like movies and CDs, with five being the best.

The portal also offers blogs on topical issues like flu shots, in this case advising that although their effectiveness is less clear for older adults, “in younger adults for example, recent studies that have pooled the most rigorous data, suggest that the influenza vaccine is about 60% effective in preventing influenza.”

Dr. Anthony Levinson, who leads the free website’s design and development, says the goal isn’t to replace visits to the doctor or encourage self-diagnosis, but to help people better inform themselves on their health issues.

Someone on a particular medicine, for instance, can research its effectiveness and discuss concerns with their doctor if the evidence raises doubts, he said.

“People do that now. There’s a lot of talk about ‘Dr. Google.’ People go, they put in a topic and then they’re like, ‘Hey, I read about this snake oil; do you think it’ll work for me?’” Levinson said.

“At a minimum, a more credible source of information that is derived from best evidence may help to narrow the focus of the conversation down a little.”

The website is part of the Larbarge Optimal Aging Initiative, made possible by a $10-million donation by retired bank executive Suzanne Larbarge, now McMaster’s chancellor.

All the online studies are vetted by two experts and evidence summaries are written in plain language to make them accessible to laypersons.

To be considered for inclusion on the website, they must be free to access, not funded by someone trying to sell you something and provide advice on optimal aging that you can act on, like seeing your doctor, staying active or limiting your exposure to something.

Levinson said the expert ratings bring the “same level of rigour and review” as you’d find in medical-journal articles geared toward professionals.

But he said they also take “a middle stance” by including studies with lower star ratings if they offer valuable information or allow users to compare findings.

“Some of those one stars are not great, but we felt in the end it might be better to be a bit like a hotel site where you can see the roach motel as well as the Ritz-Carlton in the list,” he said.

Don’t expect to find anything from U.S. television celebrity Dr. Oz or any source that wants to dig into your wallet, he added.

“When we started reviewing Dr. Oz, every second article was about some relatively unproven snake oil that, coincidentally, he’s selling that supplement that you can buy on his site as well,” he said.

Levinson said the portal is timely because people are living longer, which is seeing some people running track in their 90s but also bringing other challenges.

“It’s not fair to say the human body was not designed to live into the 80s and 90s, but there’s definitely wear and tear on our human physiology that brings with it a lot of age-related health conditions,” he said.

“There’s a lot that we can do in our younger age to improve our aging process, so we want to continue to also emphasize some of the primary and secondary prevention evidence.”

To help the public learn more about the portal, a webinar is scheduled for Oct. 21 from 3 to 4 p.m. Visit mcmasterforumhealth.org to register.

The portal itself can be found at mcmasteroptimalaging.org and also offers regular webinars on health-related topics.

McMaster University web portal takes guesswork out of healthy aging

News Oct 14, 2014 Hamilton Mountain News

Expert star-rating filters out web ‘snake oil’ hucksters

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Flu season is approaching and you’re wondering if you should get vaccinated, especially now that you’re getting older and your immune system isn’t what it used to be.

Do you listen to Uncle Harry, who’s 81 and says he never gets flu shots and has been just fine? Aunt Jane, who swears by them?

Or do you try a Google search, which turns up articles like, “8 Damn Good Reasons Not to Get the Flu Shot,” posted on a website purporting to tell “the truth” about vaccines? Is a similar one by a U.S. doctor with a seemingly credible résumé more trustworthy?

A new McMaster University website aims to eliminate the guesswork on this and other issues related to healthy aging by having experts separate the reliable studies from the junk science.

Launched on Oct. 1, the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal allows citizens, care-givers and professionals to browse a wide range of health topics, like vision problems, exercise, nutrition, cancer, bladder control, menopause and hair loss for women.

It rates articles and research on a five-star system, much like movies and CDs, with five being the best.

The portal also offers blogs on topical issues like flu shots, in this case advising that although their effectiveness is less clear for older adults, “in younger adults for example, recent studies that have pooled the most rigorous data, suggest that the influenza vaccine is about 60% effective in preventing influenza.”

Dr. Anthony Levinson, who leads the free website’s design and development, says the goal isn’t to replace visits to the doctor or encourage self-diagnosis, but to help people better inform themselves on their health issues.

Someone on a particular medicine, for instance, can research its effectiveness and discuss concerns with their doctor if the evidence raises doubts, he said.

“People do that now. There’s a lot of talk about ‘Dr. Google.’ People go, they put in a topic and then they’re like, ‘Hey, I read about this snake oil; do you think it’ll work for me?’” Levinson said.

“At a minimum, a more credible source of information that is derived from best evidence may help to narrow the focus of the conversation down a little.”

The website is part of the Larbarge Optimal Aging Initiative, made possible by a $10-million donation by retired bank executive Suzanne Larbarge, now McMaster’s chancellor.

All the online studies are vetted by two experts and evidence summaries are written in plain language to make them accessible to laypersons.

To be considered for inclusion on the website, they must be free to access, not funded by someone trying to sell you something and provide advice on optimal aging that you can act on, like seeing your doctor, staying active or limiting your exposure to something.

Levinson said the expert ratings bring the “same level of rigour and review” as you’d find in medical-journal articles geared toward professionals.

But he said they also take “a middle stance” by including studies with lower star ratings if they offer valuable information or allow users to compare findings.

“Some of those one stars are not great, but we felt in the end it might be better to be a bit like a hotel site where you can see the roach motel as well as the Ritz-Carlton in the list,” he said.

Don’t expect to find anything from U.S. television celebrity Dr. Oz or any source that wants to dig into your wallet, he added.

“When we started reviewing Dr. Oz, every second article was about some relatively unproven snake oil that, coincidentally, he’s selling that supplement that you can buy on his site as well,” he said.

Levinson said the portal is timely because people are living longer, which is seeing some people running track in their 90s but also bringing other challenges.

“It’s not fair to say the human body was not designed to live into the 80s and 90s, but there’s definitely wear and tear on our human physiology that brings with it a lot of age-related health conditions,” he said.

“There’s a lot that we can do in our younger age to improve our aging process, so we want to continue to also emphasize some of the primary and secondary prevention evidence.”

To help the public learn more about the portal, a webinar is scheduled for Oct. 21 from 3 to 4 p.m. Visit mcmasterforumhealth.org to register.

The portal itself can be found at mcmasteroptimalaging.org and also offers regular webinars on health-related topics.