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Weight Loss and PageRank

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health has found that online searches for weight loss information initially result in poor or even false advice/guidance. In an attempt to explain why and from where people find misinformation about weight loss, Francois Modave, PhD, along with Nackiran Shokar, Eribeth Penaranda, and Norma Nguyen, took to the internet and ranked the weight-loss information based on known evidence for weight loss. In this study, 103 websites were accessed for queries specific to weight loss. These websites included medical, government, and university sites, as well as blogs and public websites. It was found, by looking at a global quality score based on evidence-based nutrition, physical activity, and behavioral strategies, that less than a fifth of the websites scored over 50%, which means that more than 52 websites had either misinformation or inadequate information about weight loss. It was also found that not a single website covered all the important aspects about weight loss in one place, which would make it more difficult for searchers to compile and apply information effectively. According to the article, this resulted from nearly 90% of the clicks to searches for weigh loss information were to the first links resulted from the web search, which are generally unreliable. The results of this study are alarming because many people are received substandard information and it revealed that health care organizations and professional are finding it difficult to spread scientific evidence to the public, as it is harder to find. It was also found that blogs, which are highly accessible to the public, had surprisingly useful and accurate weight loss information, which was probably due to the writers genuinely attempting to provide good information based of experience or evidence.

This article and the study that it is about directly relates to the concept of PageRank and voting in links. For the popular weight loss websites with subpar information, they receive a higher number of clicks and are more popular because they are more accessible to the general public than papers or complicated studies with more accurate information. As people enjoy and value short and sweet information that might work over spending an extended period of time conducting proper research, the resulting network of pages is skewed in favor to those that receive more clicks and have worse information. Clicks can be converted into higher values per click. With more clicks, these pages are linked by other websites and search engines and the probability of them being linked to other sites in the future also becomes higher, making them easier to find and even more accessible (they are higher on the PageRank network). Also, it could be possible that public website and blogs are updated more frequently than more reliable government websites and are thus accessed more frequently by dedicated users, increasing their PageRank and giving them more votes. With more in-links, the Authority Update Rule could be applied to show relative popularity of each website in the network search. To encourage the public to access more reliable weight loss information, it is necessary to optimize the search engine results in favor of those sites with evidence-based information by giving those more in-links in the network.



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