August 28, 2007 / 6:11 PM / in 10 years

Women top men as seekers of online health info

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women are much more likely than men to search the Internet for information on health, according to research conducted by two professors from Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

<p>A woman on her computer in a file image. Women are much more likely than men to search the Internet for information on health, according to research conducted by two professors from Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island. REUTERS/File</p>

The finding is consistent with gender differences in healthcare utilization; for instance, women are more apt than men to go to the doctor when sick, the researchers say.

“Women are much more proactive in terms of their healthcare and are also more likely to be caretakers to children, husbands, and parents,” Dr. Janet Morahan-Martin noted in a telephone interview with Reuters Health. “When it comes to healthcare and information on health, women’s online behavior...conforms to their off-line behavior. Women are more likely to ask for help than men,” she added.

For their research, Morahan-Martin, professor of psychology and chair of the department of applied psychology, and Phyllis Schumacher, a mathematician, analyzed the results of four surveys conducted between 2000 and 2004. A total of 1,461 women and 1,317 men who had ever accessed online health information were surveyed over the four years.

In all four years, women were more likely than men to be online health seekers, although the differences lessened over time. The results were presented at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in San Francisco this month.

Specifically, in the 2001 survey, 72 percent of women and 51 percent of men were online health seekers, while in the 2002 survey, 85 percent of women and 75 percent of men went online for health information. In 2004, the figures were 82 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

In addition to being more likely than men to seek online support for medical problems, women were also more likely to use the Internet to obtain healthcare information for others. Overall, they visited more health sites than men, the data show.

Men, however, were more likely than women to go online for sensitive health information that may be hard to bring up with their doctor or partner.

Prior studies have shown that men are more apt than women to go online for several specific activities - namely, information on products and services, the weather, news, do-it-yourself, sports scores, financial information, and work-related research.

Morahan-Martin noted that healthcare is one of the few Internet uses in which women predominate -- the other areas were women outnumber men on the Internet are spiritual information and driving directions.

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