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Medical News

Generation How Young People Use the Internet for Health Information

March 19, 2002

Over the past five years, there has been an explosion in Internet access in the United States. With the growth in Internet use has also come increased attention to the role of the Web as a source of consumer health information. For young people in particular, the Internet could be especially important since the health issues that concern them are often sensitive, and many may not have an established relationship with a doctor other than their family doctor. Increased access to health information could create a more informed and healthful youth. On the other hand, if the quality of online information is not high or the source unknown, increased reliance on the Internet could lead to greater misinformation and skepticism. This report analyzed the results of a nationally representative, random dial telephone survey of 1,209 respondents ages 15 to 24, including an over-sample of approximately 200 African-American and Latino youth, between Sept. 24 and Oct. 31, 2001.

Some key findings:

  • Among all 15- to 24-year-olds, nine out of ten (90 percent) have gone online. More than two out of three (68 percent) have gotten health information online.

  • Of those online youth, three out of four (75 percent) have used the Internet at least once to find health information. Four in ten (44 percent) have looked up information online about pregnancy, birth control, HIV/AIDS, or other STDs.

  • Among the online health seekers, four out of ten (39 percent, or 27 percent of all respondents) look up health information at least once a month. Four out of ten (39 percent) say they generally find online health information "very useful" while just 5 percent say it's generally "not too" and 1 percent "not at all" useful. Four out of ten (39 percent, or 26 percent of all respondents) say they have changed their personal behavior because of health information they got online. One in seven (14 percent) have seen a doctor or other health provider because of health information they got online (18 percent for females and 8 percent for males).


  • Among the 76 percent of 15- to 17-years-olds seeking online health information, nearly half (46 percent) say they have been blocked from non-pornographic sites by filtering technology.

  • More young people (84 percent) consider sexual health issues such as pregnancy, AIDS and other STDs to be "very important" for people their age compared to any other health issue asked about in the survey.

  • Among online youth, those most likely to look for information on HIV/AIDS include African-Americans (45 percent vs. 26 percent of whites), females (34 percent vs. 25 percent of males), and teens (33 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds vs. 26 percent of 20- to 24- year-olds).

  • Online females are also much more likely than males to look up information on pregnancy and birth control (33 percent vs. 15 percent). Fully half (51 percent) of online girls ages 15 to 17 have looked up information on a sexual health topic, as have a third (33 percent) of online boys in this age group.

  • African-Americans who have sought health information are more likely to report changing their behavior than others, with fully half (52 percent) saying they have done so (42 percent of Hispanics and 37 percent of whites).

  • Few young people say they would trust health information from the Internet "a lot" (17 percent), although an additional 40 percent say they would trust it at least "somewhat." This is still far behind their trust in health information found on the TV news (76 percent would trust it somewhat or a lot) or in newspapers (72 percent).

Back to other CDC news for March 19, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Kaiser Family Foundation
12.01; Victoria Rideout

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More Statistics on Young People and HIV/AIDS in the U.S.