Background: Baby boomers and older adults, a subset of the population at high risk for chronic disease, social isolation, and poor health outcomes, are increasingly utilizing the Internet and social media (Web 2.0) to locate and evaluate health information. However, among these older populations, little is known about what factors influence their eHealth literacy and use of Web 2.0 for health information.
Objective: The intent of the study was to explore the extent to which sociodemographic, social determinants, and electronic device use influences eHealth literacy and use of Web 2.0 for health information among baby boomers and older adults.
Methods: A random sample of baby boomers and older adults (n=283, mean 67.46 years, SD 9.98) participated in a cross-sectional, telephone survey that included the eHealth literacy scale (eHEALS) and items from the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) assessing electronic device use and use of Web 2.0 for health information. An independent samples t test compared eHealth literacy among users and non-users of Web 2.0 for health information. Multiple linear and logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine associations between sociodemographic, social determinants, and electronic device use on self-reported eHealth literacy and use of Web 2.0 for seeking and sharing health information.
Results: Almost 90% of older Web 2.0 users (90/101, 89.1%) reported using popular Web 2.0 websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to find and share health information. Respondents reporting use of Web 2.0 reported greater eHealth literacy (mean 30.38, SD 5.45, n=101) than those who did not use Web 2.0 (mean 28.31, SD 5.79, n=182), t217.60=-2.98, P=.003. Younger age (b=-0.10), more education (b=0.48), and use of more electronic devices (b=1.26) were significantly associated with greater eHealth literacy (R(2) =.17, R(2)adj =.14, F9,229=5.277, P<.001). Women were nearly three times more likely than men to use Web 2.0 for health information (OR 2.63, Wald= 8.09, df=1, P=.004). Finally, more education predicted greater use of Web 2.0 for health information, with college graduates (OR 2.57, Wald= 3.86, df =1, P=.049) and post graduates (OR 7.105, Wald= 4.278, df=1, P=.04) nearly 2 to 7 times more likely than non-high school graduates to use Web 2.0 for health information.
Conclusions: Being younger and possessing more education was associated with greater eHealth literacy among baby boomers and older adults. Females and those highly educated, particularly at the post graduate level, reported greater use of Web 2.0 for health information. More in-depth surveys and interviews among more diverse groups of baby boomers and older adult populations will likely yield a better understanding regarding how current Web-based health information seeking and sharing behaviors influence health-related decision making.
Keywords: Web 2.0; aging; health literacy; social media.