In this day and age, we tend to gather a lot of our information from online sources due to its fast and easy accessibility. Wikipedia, a “socially produced document” as Royal & Kapila state, is one such source, becoming a first stop for almost any information we desire (2009). The users who contribute to Wikipedia are simply volunteers from around the world, working together to build a stronger database (Dijk & Nieborg, 2009). I feel that since Wikipedia reflects the perspective of an on-going multi-user network, it hypothetically ought to be reliable and less biased compared to other resources. However, due to its open source nature of allowing anyone to edit, Wikipedia remains in constant debate (Royal & Kapila, 2009).
With the internet full of dozens of health and fitness related websites, it’s sometimes hard to know whose information to trust. A common trend found among fitness (particularly bodybuilding) advocates, is integrating a diet which consists of eating several equally proportioned meals a day. While there are many benefits to this method, many false claims have been made in the relationship between meal frequency and metabolism – essentially stating that the more frequent you eat, the faster your engine will burn, which studies have shown no evidence for. Working in the past as a sales associate in the supplement and nutrition industry, I often heard many customers adopt this way of eating for the wrong reasons. For some, it does provide a sense of satiety, and prevents overindulging. For others, it even helps maximize energy intake – those who have trouble eating a lot in one sitting may be better off having several meals a day. However, despite its popularity, no evidence has linked meal frequency to a change in metabolic rate. I thought it would be interesting to see how Wikipedia handled this discussion.
While observing the “talk” page on the topic of bodybuilding, I was a bit surprised when I read the very first sentence under “meal frequency”, what do you know? – The first paragraph states that eating more meals a day is correlated with an increase in basal metabolic rate (metabolism). However, the statement offers no citation or evidence whatsoever – A mythical fad or myth shall I call it, making its way onto Wikipedia… At this point I became a bit weary of Wiki, but after realizing that these claims were not listed in the “main page” and were simply just a quote from an old edit, I was in relief. Other users seemed to notice the error, and provided evidence debunking the claims with links to over 9 peer-reviewed journal articles. I was impressed to see the initiative from other users, especially with the usage of reliable sources, one particularly from the Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition, as Jensen states “the one major link to the outside world is the requirement that all text be verifiable based on reliable secondary sources, with a preference for traditional published scholarship” (2012).
Although the debate between meal frequency and metabolism did not last very long on the “talk” page, it’s great to see users keep track and acknowledge inaccuracies. According to Royal & Kapila (2009), the philosophy of Wikipedia is that “with so many people looking at the content, in the long run accuracy will prevail”, although there were errors before hand, they were corrected over time. David Nadeau, in his blog “Crowdsourcing our Knowledge” brings up an interesting perspective on how news providers are under timelines and don’t always have the time/money to cover all aspects of a story, which can lead to a biased view. I believe the same could be said about fitness magazines and articles, and to add, are mostly sold for product promotion and advertising. Since Wikipedia has all the time in the world (literally), accessibility to over 200 languages (Royal &Kapila, 2009), and doesn’t cost money to update, bias is set to a minimum. My only concern is that the topic I reviewed lacks further detail on the main page (under bodybuilding). But as David states, Wikipedia is a “great starting point into a topic as an unbiased overview” and that understanding a topic further would require reading into the sources provided.
So would I recommend Wikipedia as a source for information on diet or nutrition? For a general overview, I would say yes. Alex Allan mentions in “Wikipedia: Reliable or Unreliable?” that Wikipedia is to the point, and a great place to familiarize yourself due its diverse network of editors. Although we don’t know what qualifications these editors have, as long published articles are provided, I believe we have connection to real world (Jenson, 2012).
As far as research goes, we’ve all heard it before from our professors, that Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information (Jenson, 2012). After reading Adam Mansour’s “Wikipedia Can be your Friend!” he talks about using Wikipedia as a “source for sources”, and that most of the information is lead back its original authors. Even though the section on meal frequency is rather slim, the statements are backed with published journal articles. If I wanted to learn more about a diet consisted of eating frequently, I could do so at a click of a button!
Royal, C. & Kapila, D. (2009). What’s on Wikipedia, and What’s Not . . . ?: Assessing Completeness of Information. Social Science Computer Review.27, 1.pp 138-148.
Van Dijk, J. & Nieborg, D. (2009). Wikinomics and its discontents: a critical analysis of Web 2.0 business manifestos. New Media & Society.11, 5.pp 855-874.
Jensen, R. (2012). Military History on the Electronic Frontier: Wikipedia Fights the War of 1812. Journal of Military History.76, 1. pp 1165-1182
David Nadeau: http://www.soote.org/newmedialiteracy/crowdsourcing-our-knowledge/
Adam Mansour: http://adambmansour.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/wikipedia-can-be-your-friend/
Alex Allan: http://tthehealthblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/wikipedia-reliable-or-unreliable/