Young people’s use of the Internet to find health information. A
systematic review of the literature
Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care Clinical
Effectiveness Unit. Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of
Introduction: Having access to good quality health information can
play a role in promoting health and well being of young people. Emerging data is
showing that young people are pursuing unhealthy lifestyles in increasing
numbers. Internet access is becoming widely available, and as interactive
technologies appeal to young people, the Internet has the potential to improve
access to health information for young people.
Objectives: This systematic review looked at what research has been
conducted concerning young people’s use of the Internet as a health
information source. Furthermore, what factors facilitate or enhance, or hinder
or inhibit young people’s use of the Internet as a health information source,
and finally, what health or other outcomes resulted for young people as a result
of accessing health information on the Internet.
Method: A systematic literature review examining the Internet’s role
in providing / enabling access to health information for young people aged 12 to
Results: Ten relevant studies were identified from the literature
review. The studies were all of poor quality. Two studies were unobtainable.
Most studies found that some young people use the Internet to access health
information, although girls tend to access it more often than boys do. The most
popular health topics accessed by young people were ‘sex’, ‘fitness and
exercise’, ‘diet and nutrition’, ‘specific diseases’, ‘drugs’ and
‘alcohol’. Some young people found Internet health information useful and
worthwhile, however others found it untrustworthy and unreliable, and
furthermore frustrating. Blocking devices and supervision frequently inhibited
access. Only two studies investigated behaviour change following the access of
health information. Conversely one study found that girls and African Americans
were more likely to adapt, and the other study indicated that most young people
did not change their behaviour. All of the studies only measured the young
peoples self reported answers, and did not measure actual Internet use, or where
appropriate, behaviour change.
Conclusions: From the findings of this study, it has been identified
that further rigorous research is required to investigate these issues further,
especially in the UK, and also a review of the layout of health information
websites is recommended.