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Background: The transmission of health information from in-person communication to web-based sources has changed over time. Patients can find, understand, and use their health information without meeting a health care provider and are able to participate more in their health care management. In recent years, the internet has emerged as the primary source of health information, although clinical providers remain the most credible source. The ease of access, anonymity, and busy schedules may be motivating factors to seek health information on the web. Social media has surfaced as a popular source of health information, as it can provide news in real time. The increase in the breadth and depth of health information available on the web has also led to a plethora of misinformation, and individuals are often unable to discern facts from fiction. Competencies in health literacy (HL) can help individuals better understand health information and enhance patient decision-making, as adequate HL is a precursor to positive health information-seeking behaviors (HISBs). Several factors such as age, sex, and socioeconomic status are known to moderate the association between HL and HISBs.

Objective: In this study, we aimed to examine the relationship between HL and HISBs in individuals living in a southern state in the United States by considering different demographic factors.

Methods: Participants aged ≥18 years were recruited using Qualtrics Research Services and stratified to match the statewide demographic characteristics of race and age. Demographics and source and frequency of health information were collected. The Health Literacy Questionnaire was used to collect self-reported HL experiences. SPSS (version 27; IBM Corp) was used for the analysis.

Results: A total of 520 participants met the criteria and completed the survey (mean age 36.3, SD 12.79 years). The internet was cited as the most used source of health information (mean 2.41, SD 0.93). Females are more likely to seek health information from physicians than males (r=0.121; P=.006). Older individuals are less likely to seek health information from the internet (r=-0.108; P=.02), social media (r=-0.225; P<.001), and friends (r=-0.090; P=.045) than younger individuals. Cluster analysis demonstrated that individuals with higher levels of HISBs were more likely to seek information from multiple sources than those with lower levels of HISBs (mean range 3.05-4.09, SD range 0.57-0.66; P<.001).

Conclusions: Age and sex are significantly associated with HISB. Older adults may benefit from web-based resources to monitor their health conditions. Higher levels of HL are significantly associated with greater HISB. Targeted strategies to improve HISB among individuals with lower levels of HL may improve their access, understanding, and use of health information.


Originally published in JMIR Formative Research 2022 Jun 15;6(6):e34708. doi:


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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.