Young Adults Use Net as Health Information Source

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that most teens and young adults have gone online, but differences in access across racial and socio-economic lines still exist.

The survey, “Generation”, found that 90 percent of teens and young adults (age 15 to 24) have ever gone online, and that 49 percent of those go online once a day or more. Three out of four young people (74 percent) have access at home, and 31 percent has access from their own bedroom.

When you break the numbers down by ethnic group, signs of a digital divide still appear, however. One in four Hispanic youths has never gone online, compared to just 6 percent of white youth and 13 percent of African-American youth. Eighty percent of all white respondents have Internet access from home, compared to 66 percent of African-Americans and 55 percent of Hispanics. Socio-economic disparities also persist: 85 percent of youth from self-defined working class or lower class backgrounds have been online, compared with 91 percent of middle class and 93 percent of upper and upper-middle class youth.

The Kaiser survey also examined how teens and young adults use the Internet for healthcare information. It found that 68 percent of young people have used the Internet to search for health information, and one in four said they get “a lot” of health information online. The survey also suggests that a significant proportion of youth are acting on what they find: 39 percent of online health seekers said they have changed their own behavior because of information they found on the Web.

What’s surprising is that the study found that 75 percent of young adults have searched for health information. That’s more than play games online (72 percent), downloaded music (72 percent), chatted (67 percent), shopped (50 percent) or checked sports scores (46 percent). The majority (55 percent) of those who have surfed the Web for health information do so just a few times a year, but 39 percent do so at least once a month.

“The Internet isn’t just about fun and games for young people anymore,” said Victoria Rideout, vice president and director of the Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “We need to pay attention to the quality and reliability of the health information reaching this important audience through the Internet.”

As for the specific healthcare uses of the Web, the survey found that 50 percent of all online youths have searched the Web for information on specific diseases such as cancer or diabetes. Youth-oriented topics are also popular: 44 percent have turned to the Internet for information about sexual health, including pregnancy, birth control, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and about one in four have looked up information on weight issues (25 percent), mental health (23 percent), drugs and alcohol (23 percent) and violence (23 percent).

Almost all (94 percent) of young people who have looked for health information on the Internet said that what they find is useful, including 39 percent who said it is “very useful”), but they remain skeptical about the quality of online health information in general. When asked about a variety of sources, 17 percent said they trust health information from the Internet “a lot,” as compared to 85 percent for doctors, 68 percent for parents and 30 percent for the television news. And although a large majority of young people (73 percent) said that knowing who produced health information is very important to them, only 29 percent of those who looked up health information online checked the source the last time they conducted a search.

The Generation results are based on a random sample telephone survey of 1,209 young people ages 15 to 24. The survey was designed and analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation in consultation with International Communications Research (ICR). Fieldwork was conducted by ICR Sept. 24 to Oct. 31, 2001. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

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