A recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that about six-in-ten U.S. adults search for health information on the Internet. But past research has raised concerns about the inaccuracy and bias of some online health sources.
To better understand how the Internet can be used as a educational health tool, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Pennsylvania and Cornell surveyed close to 2,000 Americans on how online health information shaped their cancer prevention beliefs. According to Futurity, study results showed:
…that those who sought health information on the Internet were more likely to have positive beliefs about cancer prevention.
Moreover, the effect was strongest for those with low levels of formal education, suggesting that the Internet has potential to be a powerful tool to reduce inequalities in cancer knowledge and prevention behaviors.
This is important because those with positive outlooks are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors that could help prevent cancer, such as eating fruits and vegetables and getting screened for cancer, [Cornell researcher and co-author Jeff Niederdeppe, PhD,] says.
But there is much left to learn, Niederdeppe says.
“There are still large gaps in cancer-related knowledge between socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged populations. Access and use of the Internet aren’t magic bullets that are going solve these issues, but there is considerable potential to use the web to reduce harmful beliefs about cancer’s causes and prevention.”
Previously: Report shows 35 percent of U.S. adults turn to the Internet to diagnose a medical condition, A look at social-media use among psoriasis patients, A detailed look at how Americans search for health information online and The third most popular activity on the Internet