Internet Becomes Health Info Source

Wednesday, December 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Three-quarters of teen-agers and young adults online have used the Internet to find health information, including details on depression, birth control and sexually transmitted diseases, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The results suggest the Internet could be a valuable alternative for those who are uncomfortable talking to their parents or doctors about sensitive topics.

``The Internet is empowering young people,'' said Vicky Rideout, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that researches health policy. ``Right there, at the click of a finger, without anybody knowing about it, they can find this whole wealth of information.''

However, Rideout added that teen-agers and young adults need to be educated on how to evaluate the information they find and how to identify differences between advertising and medical expertise.

Although those surveyed are fairly skeptical about the information they find on the Internet _ only 17 percent trust it ``a lot,'' compared with 85 percent when the information comes from doctors _ they also base decisions on their Internet research.

The study found that 90 percent of teen-agers and young adults ages 15-24 have used the Internet, and nearly half of them go online at least once a day.

Among those who have checked health information, 44 percent have researched topics related to pregnancy, birth control, AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases.

Nearly a quarter have researched depression or mental illness, and a similar number have researched problems related to drugs or alcohol.

According to the study, 39 percent said they had changed their personal behavior because of information they had looked up online, and 14 percent said they had seen a doctor or other health care provider as a result of their research.

Among the younger teen-agers surveyed, those 15-17, more than half said they had discussed the material they had found online with an adult.

Twenty-nine percent in that group said they have Internet access from their bedrooms, where they may believe they have greater privacy. Those teens were more likely to research health issues ``a lot'' _ 30 percent compared to 22 percent. The survey did not factor in parental use of software that could monitor online activity.

The report was based on a random telephone survey of 1,209 people ages 15-24. It was conducted Sept. 24-Oct. 31 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.