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Teens often mine the Internet for health advice, but they trust parents more, study says

POSTED: June 14, 2015 12:09 p.m.
Kelsey Dallas/

More than 80 percent of teenagers have searched for health information online, but they're more satisfied with answers offered by parents.

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Nearly one in four teenagers are online "almost constantly," according to a recent report from Pew Research Center, but don't confuse this affinity for the Internet with being inactive. New research highlights how spending time online actually helps teens learn healthier habits.

The study, released Tuesday by Northwestern University's Center on Media and Human Development, reported that 84 percent of teens have searched for health information online. Popular areas of inquiry included exercise advice, nutrition information, and tips for combatting stress and anxiety.

"One in three teenagers said they changed their behavior because of what they had learned from online sites or apps," The New York Times noted.

As Deseret News National has reported in the past, mining the Internet for health information can be anxiety-inducing, because a single search leads to dozens of (often contradictory) answers.

But teens appeared to couple their online wellness inquiries with a healthy dose of skepticism, and they were more satisfied with the answers offered by parents and medical professionals than those found with Google, according to researchers.

"The 24 percent who say they are 'very' satisfied with online health information falls far short of the percent who are very satisfied with information from their parents (57 percent), health providers (54 percent) or health classes at school (38 percent)," the study reported. Results were based on a survey of 1,156 adolescents aged 13 to 18.

Vicky Rideout, one of the study's co-authors, told The Washington Post she was pleased to see how mature teenagers appeared to be in their approach to online health information.

"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," she said.

According to Ellen Wartella, director of Northwestern's Center on Media and Human Development, the study should encourage health organizations to be proactive about putting relevant, easy-to-understand resources online.

"The study highlights the importance of making sure there is accurate, appropriate and easily accessible information available to teens, because it's used and acted upon," she told the Post.
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