Web-Based Health Information Does Not Help People Live Healthier Lives

Maximizing the impact of the Internet on health promotion and disease management

From 2000 to 2004, Pro-Change Behavior Systems, a research and development health behavior change firm, examined how well health behavior change websites help users change their health habits and how individuals use those sites.

Key Results

  • The researchers accomplished the following:

    • Examined 294 websites covering seven health areas (diet, exercise, smoking, asthma, alcohol use, depression and diabetes).
    • Developed a survey instrument to determine consumers' readiness to use the Internet to change health-related behavior.
    • Fielded the survey: Some 413 people completed the baseline survey; of these, 77 percent completed the follow-up survey one year later.

Key Findings

  • In Impacts of Health Behavior Change of Health.Com Programs, the researchers reported the following findings:

    • The researchers found few prior studies that examined the effectiveness of Web-based programs for promoting changes in health behavior. Programs specifically designed for the Internet are more effective than sites that transfer pre-existing behavior change programs to the Web.
    • The majority of websites that are readily available to consumers do not meet the minimum criteria needed to help individuals change risky health behavior or manage chronic illnesses.
    • Sites on diet, exercise and smoking are further along than those on asthma, alcohol and depression.
  • In Toward Maximizing Internet Impacts on Health Promotion and Disease Management, the researchers reported the following findings:

    • Some 80.5 percent of respondents to the baseline survey used the Internet to get health information; however, only 28.9 percent used the Internet to help them change their health behavior or manage a chronic disease.
    • The majority of individuals (54%) remained at the same stage of behavioral change from the baseline to the follow-up survey; however, 25.9 percent progressed through stages while 21 percent regressed.
    • In the follow-up survey, the majority of individuals who said in the baseline survey that they used the Internet to help them change risky health behavior were no longer using these types of programs.