Navigating the online world of lifestyle health information: an adolescent perspective
Background: Lifestyle health related trajectories, including dietary behaviours, physical activity, body weight and sleep are established in adolescence. Generation Z (born 1995-2015) are the most internet-dependent generation in history with >90% smartphone ownership. Gaps exist in understanding of what online platforms adolescents are using and barriers and facilitators of these to seek lifestyle health information.
Aims: To explore adolescents’ perceptions on use of contemporary digital platforms (websites, social media, smartphone apps) to seek information or advice related to lifestyle heath.
Methods: Focus groups were held via Zoom (Jul-Aug 2021). Eligible participants were 13-18 years, living in Australia and searched for online lifestyle health information in previous three months. Participants were recruited through an existing database. Focus groups were transcribed verbatim, independently coded by two researchers and analysed thematically (Framework approach).
Results: Five focus groups were held (n=32, mean age 16.3±1.4, 56% female). Thematic analysis revealed participants searched for information both actively (e.g., on Google or YouTube) and passively (e.g., scrolling social media and preloaded smartphone apps). Participants identified that most helpful information was well-organised (aesthetic appeal and layout), came from a credible and reliable source (e.g. sponsorships disclosed) and expressed the need for relatability. Mixed views were reported for application of lifestyle health information found online.Conclusions: This study highlights the complexity of lifestyle health information online for adolescents. Adolescents seek to access information that is appealing, credible, relevant and actionable. Future interventions must consider co-design with adolescents. Furthermore, the regulation of lifestyle health information available online warrants further investigation.