204617 Understanding teens and the “digital divide”: Can we reach low-income youth online with health information?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nancy F. Berglas, MHS , Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Sarah L. Schwartz, MPH , Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Lauren Ralph, MPH , Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Claire Brindis, DrPH , Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
The increasing popularity of the internet among teens has made it an emerging venue for delivering health messages, but little is known about its potential to reach marginalized populations. While internet access may seem ubiquitous, there remains concern about the existence of a “Digital Divide,” with those in low-income communities having less access than their peers. This study presents findings from an evaluation of family planning clinics using social networking sites (SNS) to connect teens with sexual health services. Specifically, it assesses teens' frequency and location of internet use, experience seeking health information online, and willingness to connect with clinics online. Findings are based on a survey (N=994) and six focus groups (N=58) with teens in low-income communities across California. Findings point to the nearly universal presence of the internet in teens' lives, with 94% reporting at least occasional internet access. Study trends are similar to national samples, indicating a shrinking “Digital Divide” among low-income teens, although disparities in frequency and location of access were notable by ethnicity (p<.05). Overall, teens were comfortable seeking personal health information online and assessing the trustworthiness of online information. Many reported interest in receiving sexual health information from a clinic via its website (72%), email (60%), or SNS (50%). Still, some teens were not ready to engage in this approach, preferring to use the internet for social interaction with friends. Given the diversity of responses, it is critical for programs to assess the interests and experiences of their populations before embarking on web-based efforts.

Learning Objectives:
1) Describe trends in internet access and use among teens, and discuss the shrinking “Digital Divide” for youth in low-income communities 2) Identify youth attitudes toward seeking sexual health information online and connecting with health care providers via social networking sites 3) Assess the potential for using the internet to reach marginalized youth with health messages

Keywords: Family Planning, Internet

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have conducted evaluations of family planning services and teen pregnancy prevention programs for 9 years. I have a master’s degree in public health, with an emphasis on reproductive and women’s health, from Johns Hopkins University.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.