Social media users likely to seek health info online

People who use social networking sites are more likely to seek health information online, recently published research from the Journal of Health Communication suggests.

“Active users of social networking sites tend to be active online health information seekers,” Yang Feng, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and lead author of the study, stated in a press release. “Socioeconomic and demographic factors that lead to disparities in social networking could also contribute to disparities in seeking health information online.”

Researchers examined phone interview data of 2,928 adults who took part in the Health Tracking Surveys from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Data was collected in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Participants were asked if they used social networking sites; searched for health information online about a specific disease, medical treatment or physicians; and if they or someone close to them had a chronic disease.

Findings showed in 2010, people who used social networking sites were 131% more likely to seek disease-specific information online than people who did not use social media. Individuals with a chronic disease, or a person close to them with a chronic disease, were more likely to look for disease-specific information online, but no more likely to search for information on physicians or hospitals, the study found.

The study also found that older people were less likely to search for physicians or treatment-specific information online; non-whites were less likely to search for disease or treatment information online; women and people with higher incomes were more likely than men and people with lower incomes to use social networking sites.

“Even though social networking sites have grown over the years, some social groups…are not fully engaged and are less likely to obtain health information through these sites; yet, we still lack customized health education programs to target these people,” Feng said. “This study helps identify those groups who are not making good use of social networking sites throughout the years.”


Feng Y. J Health Commun. 2014;doi:10.1080/10810730.2014.906522.

Disclosure: Feng has no relevant financial disclosures.

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