Medical misinformation has real-world implications for patients, especially young women, according to a recent report.
Nearly three-quarters of women between the ages of 18 and 44 want to better understand women’s health, menstruation and ovulation tracker Flo Health found.
The report indicated that, unsurprisingly, women are increasingly heading to social media to learn about women’s health.
Almost two-thirds of young women reported learning more about women’s health from social media than school. Similarly, nearly 20% of all women surveyed said they went to YouTube, social media or other online forums to find information about menstrual health.
Among the other findings, Flo discovered that 33% of women don’t know it’s possible to catch a sexually transmitted infection (STI) without penetrative sex and that more than half of women aren’t aware of the amount of days they’re fertile per month.
In addition, 62% of women reported not knowing about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) while 50% said they were unfamiliar with endometriosis.
There are also gaps in menstruation education: 58% of women reported feeling that period pain or PMS was “just something to put up with” and nearly 60% of women said they didn’t know what a “normal” menstrual cycle is.
Some of the gaps in knowledge can be attributed to a lacking sex education system: only 38 states mandate sex education and 19 states teach abstinence as a form of birth control.
“Diagrams of the female anatomy and recommendations for abstinence with little or no emotional or practical guidance leave girls and women lacking the skills and knowledge to manage their cycles or have healthy sex lives,” Flo concluded.
The findings shine a light on misinformation and lack of education around women’s health, in light of abortion restrictions taking place across the country post-Roe.
“In the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we’re in a perfect storm,” Flo wrote in a statement. “Women’s health clinics are closing, doctors are fearing prosecution, and the education system is failing to properly teach reproductive health. As credible sources of information disappear, [women] are searching for answers online, where they are confronted with widespread misinformation.”
Navigating the post-Roe landscape has been a critical issue for Flo.
Last year, the company turned on “anonymous mode” for its app to help users avoid being identified with their period-tracking and health data. The company said it released the new feature to help protect users’ reproductive health information given that many women fear their data could be used against them in states where abortion is criminalized.
As it relates to the widespread lack of awareness and education around menstruation, Flo argued this trend could lead to severe health complications like missed diagnoses and delayed treatment for conditions like PCOS or endometriosis.
The report pinpointed TikTok as being a big part of the “medical Wild West.” Misinformation around issues like “free births,” birth control or periods are pretty much everywhere on the platform. In addition, one recent report found that nearly 84% of mental health videos on TikTok are misleading.
Flo suggests women can counter misinformation online by checking sources’ qualifications, avoiding buying into ‘miracle’ cures as well as looking up references for medical statements. It’s also always healthy to question claims made by so-called “experts” on social media, the company suggested.