An Internet Phenomenon Of Epidemic Proportions takes

They’d probably do more for their health if they turned off their computers and ran briskly around the block. Nonetheless, growing numbers of Americans are using the Internet to search for information on health and healthcare. A Harris Poll finds the average “cyberchondriac” goes online for such information three times a month, “searching mainly through portals or search engines rather than by going directly to particular sites.” The proportion of online adults who are cyberchondriacs has risen just modestly since a 1998 Harris survey, from 71 percent then to 80 percent now. But the percentage who “often” hunt for health information has increased by half, from 12 percent then to 18 percent now. Though the demographics of disease skew old, cyberchondriacs skew young—as does the online population. Cyberchondriacs represent 82 percent of the total 18-29-year-old population (i.e., not just the online population), vs. 49 percent of all 50-64-year-olds and 26 percent of those 65 and older. Education is a dividing line as well, with 84 percent of those with a post-graduate degree counting as cyberchondriacs, vs.75 percent of those with a college degree and 63 percent of those who merely have “some college.” Still, it’s an indication of how ubiquitous the Internet is becoming that 49 percent of adults who’ve got a high school education or less have used the Internet to seek such information. There’s virtually no gender gap in this matter, with 59 percent of men and 60 percent of women having made such a search. Meanwhile, let’s hope some scientist has initiated a longitudinal study to track whether people who go online for health information (and, inevitably, misinformation) live any longer than those who eschew such research.