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New Study Examines Adolescentsí Use of the Internet for Health Information

August 31, 2001

A study in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine examines adolescents' use of and attitudes toward accessing health information through the Internet.

Researchers surveyed 412 tenth grade students in an economically and ethnically diverse suburban town. The survey focused on three health areas: birth control and safer sex; diet, nutrition, and exercise; and dating and family violence. Students were asked what health topics they had ever tried to obtain information on from the Internet, what topics they obtained "the most information on from the Internet," and whether they thought the Internet was worthwhile, trustworthy, useful, and relevant.

Internet Use

  • Practically all (96%) respondents used the Internet; 26% used the Internet less than 1 day a week; 39% 2 to 5 days a week; and 35% 6 to 7 days a week.
  • 72% of respondents said they used the Internet in their own home, 17% in school, 4% at a friend's, and 6% at other locations.

Where Teens Get Information

Respondents were asked which of 15 possible sources they used for health information. They could name more than one source. Among responses:

  • 63% of respondents obtained information on birth control and safer sex from friends; 32% from siblings or cousins; 31% from the Internet; 31% from magazines; 29% from parents; 29% from health care providers or clinics; 21% from health class; 17% from teachers or coaches; 9.5% from public health campaigns; and 3.6% from clergy.
  • 45% of respondents obtained information about diet, nutrition and exercise from their parents; 44% from magazines; 39% from friends; 35% from health class; 34% from the Internet; 33% from health care providers or clinics; 22% from siblings or cousins; 22% from teachers or coaches; 12% from public health campaigns; and 1.7% from clergy.
  • 53% of respondents obtained information about dating and family violence from their friends; 38% from parents; 30% from siblings or cousins; 28% from magazines; 25% from the Internet; 25% from teachers or coaches; 12% from health care providers and clinics; 11% from health class; and 7% from clergy.

Valuable Sources of Information

Respondents were asked to name the "most valuable" source of information on these topics.

  • For birth control and safer sex, the 4 most valuable sources of information were friends, parents, siblings and cousins, and health care providers or clinics.
  • For diet, nurtition, and exercise, the most valuable sources were parents, health care providers or clinics, friends, and magazines.
  • For dating and family violence, the most valuable sources were parents, friends, teachers or coaches, and siblings or cousins.
  • Of the 15 different sources, the Internet ranked as the sixth or seventh most valuable for each topic area.

Health Topics Accessed Through the Internet

  • 49% of respondents had tried to obtain some type of health information from the Internet.
  • Those respondents who used the Internet to find health information, reported seeking information on the following topics: 42% sex (sexual activity, contraception, pregnancy); 42% fitness and exercise; 37% sexually transmitted disesases; 37% diet and nutrition; 25% alcohol and other drug use; 23% dating violence or rape; 23% other illness; 21% cancer; 21% tobacco or smoking; 18% violence among peers or gangs; 17% heart disease; 17% sexual or physical abuse; 15% mental health issues; 9% parenting or children's health; 6% illness support groups.

Using a composite measure to assess respondents' perception of the worth, trustworthiness, usefulness, and relevence of general health information on the Internet, the authors found that adolescents value this medium with no significant differences related to sex or ethnicity.

The authors conclude that most adolescents not only use the Internet for health information but also consider this medium valuable. They suggest that the Internet can serve as a useful supplement to existing health care services and that more research on this topic is necessary to help educators determine how to present Internet health information.

For more information: D. Borzekowsi, Ed.D. and V. Rickert, Psy.D., "Adolescent Cybersurfing for Health Information," Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, vol. 155, July 2001.

This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
See Also
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10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More on HIV Prevention Multimedia for Young People


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