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Thanks to the Web, more youngsters, and their parents, are getting a break from the awkward “the birds and the bees� chats. Fully 75 percent of wired 15- to 24-year-olds say they have used the Internet to look up health-related information online, and almost half (44 percent) of those surf the Net about pregnancy, birth control, HIV/AIDS, STDs and other issues pertaining to sexual health, according to a study released in December 2001.

The nationally representative study, entitled “Generation,� was commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national health philanthropy. The survey was conducted by International Communications Research (ICR) via telephone interviews with 1,209 young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 from September 24 to October 31, 2001. While much has been written about America's youth spending time online playing games and chatting with friends, researchers sought to find out if and how they are using the medium to seek out answers to sensitive health-related questions.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, teens and young adults are interested in more than s-e-x. Of those respondents who have ever used the Internet to find health information, 50 percent have researched specific diseases, like diabetes and cancer. Other major surf topics include weight issues (25 percent), depression or mental illness (23 percent), drugs and alcohol (23 percent) and violence (23 percent). In fact, a greater share of wired young adults say they have used the Internet to look up health information (75 percent) than have played online games (72 percent), downloaded music (72 percent), participated in chats (67 percent) or shopped (50 percent). Almost 4 in 10 (39 percent) say they look up health information online at least once a month.

“The Internet isn't just about fun and games anymore,� says Victoria Rideout, vice president and director of the Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “We need to pay attention to the quality and reliability of the health information reaching this important audience through the Internet.�

Practically all young adults who've sought health info online say they find it useful (94 percent, including 39 percent who say it is “very useful�). Sixty-nine percent say they've talked with friends about the health information they found online, 39 percent have changed their personal behavior and 14 percent have seen a doctor in response to what they learned.

Even so, the vast majority of them admit to being skeptical about what they find on the Internet. Only 17 percent say they trust health information found there “a lot,� compared with the whopping 85 percent who trust health advice from their doctor, 68 percent who trust their parents and 66 percent who trust their teachers. Even TV news beats the Internet in trustworthiness (30 percent).

“Increased access to health information could create a more informed and healthful youth,� write the researchers in the report. “On the other hand, if the quality of online information is not high or the source unknown, increased reliance on the Internet could lead to greater misinformation and skepticism.�

Perhaps there's still a need for the birds and the bees lessons after all.

For more information call the Kaiser Family Foundation's publication request line at (650) 854-9400.


A full 82 percent of young people say that confidentiality is the most important issue when seeking information regarding their personal health.


Confidentiality 82%
Being able to ask questions 77%
Knowing who produced the information 73%
Hearing different sides of the issue 73%
Finding information easily 73%
Convenient time/place 67%
Hearing the real experiences of people their age 61%
Face-to-face communication 58%
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation/International Communications Research (ICR)
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