A concerning new study reports the majority of millennials and members of Generation Z rely first on social media platforms for their health information. A situation made necessary partly by quarantine conditions, it would indicate those age groups are at the mercy of social media sources’ sometimes dubious accuracy.
The information from Healthline.com was gathered in a two-wave, online qualitative study in late April and early June 2020 with people living with chronic health problems. The sources represented mix of genders, ages and ethnicities, and come from 39 different states in the U.S.
The research focused first on people living with chronic health conditions and how they are impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak. Its primary data point makes it clear that health-centric web pages such as its home site and WebMD are the most popular general resource for those living with health conditions as 76% of those surveyed go to them first.
However, amongst those younger adults questioned, social media platforms become the first source of medical information. Millennials (62%) and Generation Z (52%) go to the likes of influencers on Twitter, Facebook and other apps with medical concerns. Generation X ranked third behind its younger peers at 44%.
As for the individual platforms, YouTube and Twitter are most popular for health condition information among Millennials. Instagram tied with Facebook as the top platform among Generation Z.
Other results made it clear that so-called health influencers have an effect on the lives of all age groups with 44% of people with a preexisting health condition valuing their opinion or advice.
Finally, results show Generation X is most interested in condition-specific content, nutrition and alternative approaches, while Millennials are most interested in fitness and mental health content.
The concerning factor in relying first on social media influencers for medical advice is that their content is sometimes not peer reviewed or fact checked. It’s hardly outrageous to report that social media can offer false information, while medical research and data sites such as WebMD source reports to doctors and other health professionals.
In a time of pandemic when many media reports contradict each other and report too often on what may happen instead of what is actually taking place, it’s particularly dangerous to turn solely to a social media platform instead of firmly researched medical advice.