Almost one-third of teens have changed their health habits after looking up information on the Internet, study suggests

A decade-long study by researchers at Northwestern University about how teenagers use the Internet for health information found that almost one-third of adolescents report changing health habits after looking for information online, Lena H. Sun writes for the Washington Post.

The study also found that almost 25 percent of teens check the Internet to find information about health conditions their family and friends have. “While most teens rely on digital resources to learn more about puberty, drugs, sex and depression, among other issues, a surprising 88 percent said they did not feel comfortable sharing their health concerns with friends on Facebook or on other social networking sites,” Sun writes.

“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,” said Vicky Rideout, a co-author of the study.

Although the study found that parents are still the leading source of health information—55 percent of teens reported learning “a lot” of health information from parents—and health classes in school, doctors and nurses came in second and third, the Internet is the fourth-largest source of health information. “Eighty-four percent of teens said they turned to the Internet for health information,” Sun reports.

Teens are still asking their parents health questions, and only 13 percent of those surveyed said they consult the Internet because they couldn’t talk to their parents. “The Internet is not replacing parents, teachers and doctors; it is supplementing them,” the researchers wrote.

Participants in the study were 1,156 American teenagers between 13 and 18 years old. “We need to make sure there is good information for teens online,” Rideout said. Teenagers need to learn digital literacy skills and acquire the ability to tell the difference between advertising and content. (Read more)

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