Medical misinformation is a contributing factor to lowered life expectancies in the U.S., FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD, told CNBC.
Even as life expectancy in other countries has rebounded after the pandemic, it has continued to decline in the U.S. — it is around three to five years shorter than comparative high-income nations — according to NPR.
Sorting out the rampant health misinformation that floods the internet is something the commissioner told CNBC will require regulation and additional oversight from agencies like the FDA and Federal Trade Commission.
Dr. Califf told CNBC that the reach an individual can have via the internet can misinform potentially billions and is especially concerning as there aren’t clear rules or regulations currently in place to deal with it.
“We don’t have societal rules that are adjudicating it quite right, and I think it’s impacting our health in very detrimental ways,” he told CNBC.
Education levels and living in rural regions of the U.S. can also expose individuals to different information sources that may not always be accurate, Dr. Califf shared with the outlet, noting that COVID-19 alone was not a driving factor to the lowered life expectancy in the U.S.
The pandemic also sparked a growing tide of medical misinformation related to vaccines, the virus itself and healthcare in general — which can shape views of public health issues for the worse if misinformation is not dispelled.
Specifically, researchers have found that a combination of social media and lower digital health literacy can complicate these issues and further the spread of misinformation.
Dr. Califf told CNBC that much of the decline in public health and life expectancies can be attributed to the “choices that people make because of the things that influenced their thinking.”
While there is not yet a silver-bullet solution to the “infodemic,” researchers have suggested that using tools and initiatives focused on increasing health literacy can help combat health misinformation online.