Role of health literacy in health-related information-seeking behavior online: Cross-sectional study


Background: The internet has emerged as a main venue of health information delivery and health-related activities. However, few studies have examined how health literacy determines online health-related behavior. Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the current level of health-related information-seeking using the internet and how health literacy, access to technology, and sociodemographic characteristics impact health-related information-seeking behavior. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study through a survey with Minnesotan adults (N=614) to examine their health literacy, access to technology, and health-related information-seeking internet use. We used multivariate regression analysis to assess the relationship between health-related information-seeking on the internet and health literacy and access to technology, controlling for sociodemographic characteristics. Results: Better health literacy (β=.35, SE 0.12) and greater access to technological devices (eg, mobile phone and computer or tablet PC; β=.06, SE 0.19) were both associated with more health-related information-seeking behavior on the internet after adjusting for all other sociodemographic characteristics. Possession of a graduate degree (β=.28, SE 0.07), female gender (β=.15, SE 0.05), poor health (β=.22, SE 0.06), participation in social groups (β=.13, SE 0.05), and having an annual health exam (β=.35, SE 0.12) were all associated with online health-related information-seeking. Conclusions: Our findings indicate that access to online health-related information is not uniformly distributed throughout the population, which may exacerbate disparities in health and health care. Research, policy, and practice attention are needed to address the disparities in access to health information as well as to ensure the quality of the information and improve health literacy.

Publication Title

Journal of Medical Internet Research