A new survey has shown that 84 per cent of American teenagers use the internet to research health problems. Ellen Wartella, a professor at Northwestern University, said “the nationwide survey is the first initiative after more than 10 years to tackle how media tools are being put to use by young people.”
The survey looked at the online behaviour of over 1,100 American adolescents aged 13-18, studying how frequently they used the internet, how much information they obtained and which topics they looked at. Topics that were found to be popular included fitness, exercise, nutrition and diet. The survey also found that 19 per cent of topics researched by teens online related to conditions associated with stress, 18 per cent to sexually transmitted diseases and puberty and 16 per cent to mental health conditions.
While the survey showed that the internet was not the main source of health information for teens, it ranked the highest out of other media sources. A large number of teens get their health advice from their parents, according to the study, but many choose the internet over magazines, books and television to get information.
Researchers commented that, “the internet is not replacing parents, teachers and doctors; it is supplementing them.”
The study also found that one-quarter of teens use the internet to research health problems of their friends and family.
Vicky Rideout, a co-author of the study, said that the survey shows that teens are dealing with health challenges.
“I mainly find it kind of moving, because it really illustrates that a lot of teens are grappling with very real, very important health challenges and that the internet is empowering them with the information they need to take better care of themselves,” she said.
However, some concerns were raised over teens using the internet for health information. Dr Danelle Fisher of Providence Saint John’s Health Centre in Santa Monica said that teens might end up harming themselves if information is incorrect.
“The internet is a wealth of information, but not all of this information is accurate. Teens and adults should always analyse critically the source of information when trying to look up something online and use reputable sources if possible,” she said.