Study: Internet heavily used for seeking health info

Among U.S. 'Net users, 80 percent look for information about diseases, treatments, doctors, insurance and other health topics

Looking for health information ranks as the third most popular online activity among adult Internet users in the U.S., behind the use of e-mail and search engines, according to a new study released Tuesday.

In a survey of U.S. residents 18 years and older conducted in August and September of last year, 80 percent of the respondents who use the Internet have sought health-related information online, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. In the larger population, including people who don't access the Internet, 59 percent of U.S. residents look for health information online.

Among all respondents, including non-Internet users, women (65 percent) were more likely to seek health information online than men (53 percent), and whites (63 percent) were more likely to do so than blacks (47 percent) and Hispanics (45 percent). The younger an adult is, the more likely he or she is to look up health information online: 71 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 do it, versus 29 percent among those 65 and older.

A similar trend emerges when results are viewed by education level, with college graduates engaging in this practice the most (81 percent) and respondents without a high school degree doing it the least (24 percent), and by income level, with those making US$75,000 or more at the top (83 percent) and those making less than $30,000 at the bottom (41 percent.)

People most often research specific conditions and diseases (66 percent), followed by medical treatments and procedures (56 percent), doctors and other care providers (44 percent), medical facilities (36 percent), health insurance (33 percent) and food safety and recalls (29 percent), according to the resulting study, a collaboration between Pew and the nonprofit California HealthCare Foundation.

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