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While the vast majority of adolescents is using the Internet to satisfy their healthcare needs, so far there is few information about the features of these online healthcare information seekers. Little is known about the way such data affect their health behaviors, and whether they are different from the younger audiences that grab healthcare data from offline sources. In addition to demographics criteria, the commonest characteristics of an average seeker’s profile involve the percentage of the Internet usage, the prevailing Internet perceptions, and individual reasons for using the Internet as a credible source of information. Critical examination of the features particular to adolescent audiences seeking health information online assumes better comprehension of their needs and suggestion of possible improvements in the realm of online health information availability and quality of the related content. In due respect, such examination will also enable to determine critical factors that distinguish the seekers of either online or ofﬂine healthcare data.
Since 2000, the Pew Internet and American Life Project have investigated the Internet effects on children, families and wider communities, as well as on the work environments, educational institutions, and socio-political establishment. The survey data indicated that 8 in 10 Internet users (equaling to 61% of the U.S. adults) seek health information online. The most popular searches involve anxiety, depression, mental health issues and stresses. At that, the seekers of the health-related data available online are most concerned about mental health and somatic problems. Adolescent seekers of online health information mostly associate themselves with a “poor health” status. Furthermore, the same category is prone to clinical impairment, psychosocial risk factors, depressive symptoms, and detrimental health behaviors. The literature review on help-seeking behaviors typical of teenagers and adults reveals that female seekers of online health information outnumber their male counterparts. Nonetheless, these gender-related findings are rather inconsistent. While some researches suggest that females significantly outnumber male seekers, others hold that there are no considerable gender differences. The findings of the Pew Internet and American Life Project show that since 2003 female seekers of online mental health data has accounted for 35% compared to 22% of males. Furthermore, 18-29-year-olds accounted for 33%, 30-49-year-olds accounted for 32%, and 50-64-year-olds accounted for 26% respectively. At that, there were mere 12% of adults aged 65 up. These findings comply with the research conducted by Cotten and Gupta 2004 indicating that the age became a core factor that distinguished online and offline seekers of health information; the age difference between offline and online seekers comprised 11 years (51 vs. 40 years of age respectively). At last, the same sources evidence that online mental health information seekers with higher level of educational background outnumbered those who held lower educational levels.
While research in the field of online health information seeking is on the rise, a great deal of questions remains unanswered. These unanswered questions concern the typical profiles of the adolescent users of the Internet in the pursuit of mental health data. As for now, the nature of the most of the studies is rather descriptive. Hence, further research investigating the interrelationships among socio-demographic features, the use of the Internet data, health status of the seekers, and health data seeking behavior assumes a broad perspective.
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