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The Trouble with Some Health Websites

By on November 4, 2012

Did you know that more than 90 million American adults read below the high-school level? And more disturbing, reserachers found that very few cancer websites are written to meet their reading abilities.

Dr. Gopal Gupta and colleagues Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago  and colleagues identified 62 websites by searching for “prostate cancer,”  “prostate cancer treatment” and “prostatectomy” — prostate removal — on  Google, Yahoo and Bing search engines.

To assess readability, researchers used the Flesch-Kincaid test, which  measures the reading grade level, and the Flesch reading ease test, which  assigns a readability score of 0 to 100. The tests are based on formulas that  incorporate total number of words, sentences and syllables. A score of 90 to 100 would be easily understood by an 11-year-old; a score of  60 to 70 would be understood by 13- to-15-year-olds; and scores 30 and lower  would be suited to college graduates.

The study, published in the Journal of Urology, 63% of the sites were  written above a 12th-grade reading level, and the median Flesch reading ease  score for all sites a relatively difficult 38.1.

Websites with the easiest readability scores were News-Medical Net at the  eighth-grade level, Consumer Reports.org at 8.9, Family Doctor.org at 8.95, UPMC  Cancer Centers at 9.2 and National Institute Health’s Pubmed Health at 9.8.

“It was discouraging to find that only 4.8 percent of these sites had information written for those below a high school reading level,” Gupta, the senior author, and his colleagues said. “No sites in our study were written at the fourth- to sixth-grade level recommended by the NIH.”


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