Some intriguing results emerge from a recently published report by Scarborough Research which shows that most teens respond positively about their own healthy lifestyles and use the parents and the Internet most frequently for information about health, especially concerning nutrition and exercise.
If the panel results indeed are valid and reliable, they are significant in how they contradict more widely reported data from federal health agencies and other sources focusing on childhood obesity, in particular. In fact, the teens’ sense of self-awareness about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle should then be the foundation upon which public health messages are created and disseminated.
The S.K.I.P. Teen Health Perceptions Study was fielded via an Internet panel from December 30, 2008 through January 10, 2009, and covered health-related topics. The panel included 1,800 respondents between the ages of 13 and 17.
Nutrition and exercise were most prominent in teens’ responses. What you eat (38 percent) and exercise (32 percent) were the most frequently mentioned pillars of a healthy lifestyle. More than 57 percent said they would eat healthy foods more frequently if they were less expensive.
For teens, what constitutes healthy?
* Fresh fruit, raw vegetables and salad are most healthy.
* Candy, soda and salty snacks are least healthy.
* Bottled water is perceived as healthy—nearly as healthy as fresh fruit.
* Sports drinks are perceived as significantly less healthy than bottled water.
* Energy bars are not perceived as healthy.
* Energy drinks are perceived as nearly as unhealthy as soda.
With regard to exercise, teens were decidedly more ambivalent:
“The majority (69%) feel they are physically fit. However, more than half strongly feel they need more exercise. And, when asked why they are not exercising as much as they should, the most common reasons given by teens are ‘too lazy’ or ‘no time.’”
Less than a third (30%) say they exercise every day and nearly half (49%) said just a couple of times a week.
There also was a correlation between how students perceived their healthy lifestyles with the number of activities they engage in during or after school. Students had the option to select their activities among 61 choices that ranged from playing video games to BMX racing and virtually every imaginable sport possible. To no one’s surprise, the most frequent choices were playing video games, hanging out with friends, and playing basketball.
Where teens go to for health information should be of particular interest to school officials:
“The two best channels for reaching teens with health information are their parents and the Internet. Sixty-three percent of teens said that when they have questions about health and nutrition, they go to their parents/guardians for information. One-half (50%) turn to the Internet. Girls are more likely than boys to use either source.”
These findings do suggest that most public health messages would work more effectively if they also target parents as well.
Also, teens use search engines, common medical sites such as Web MD, MayoClinic.com and FamilyDoctor.org, and health-related blogs more frequently than social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Despite their heavy use of social media, teens clearly see more traditional search engine strategies as the best way to access reliable health information.
And, teens appear to be quite discriminating consumers when it comes to making online health-related purchases such as vitamins, nutritional supplements, and sporting and exercise equipment:
“Fifty-six percent say a ‘very informative website’ is ‘very or somewhat important’ when it comes to making a health-related product purchase. Forty-six percent cite ‘recommendation from websites like WebMD or MayoClinic.com.’ The influence of the adult is prevalent here as well, with 54% of teens saying their coach’s recommendation is ‘very or somewhat important’ to their buying decisions.”
These findings fit with what the Pew Internet and American Life Project has found as Pew’s Susannah Fox has noted: 79% of American adults use the Internet and many of them not only gather and share health information online, but make health decisions based on what they find.
Fox also notes many more people are going online to connect with what those traditional sources of health information including professionals in the field, friends, and family members.
She cites the impact of PatientsLikeMe, a social network for individuals who are managing chronic health problems. The site administrators assist participants by recording their daily observations of living to help similar patients become better informed about their own treatments for a particular problem. As she indicates:
“Peer to peer advice turns out to be powerful and influential. A survey of HIV community members on PatientsLikeMe found that two-thirds of respondents said they are more knowledgeable about risks and benefits of a ‘treatment holiday’ because of what they have learned from other users at PatientsLikeMe. Seven in ten said using PLM has increased their interest in results of tests ordered by the doctor treating their HIV.”
And, with teens, who have mastered the art of mobile communication and text messaging, those involved in healthcare marketing and promotion should wisely consider the value of cellphone apps to encourage and persuade people to seek content on the Web or even contact a center. Not only does it work with the H1N1 flu or other illness outbreaks such as salmonella, but the strategy would be potentially quite effective with getting out empathetic, empowering messages about what teens consider to be the pillars of a healthy lifestyle — nutrition and exercise.
Find Today's Daily Deal on the Best in Salt Lake City!