Adolescent and Young Adult Use of Social Media for Health and Its Implications

J Adolesc Health. 2017 Jun;60(6):714-719. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.12.025. Epub 2017 Mar 1.


Purpose: To determine how adolescents and young adults (AYAs) use social media to share health information and to assess attitudes toward using social media to obtain health information and communicate with medical providers.

Methods: A cross-sectional study of AYAs, 12 years or older, attending a primary care adolescent and young adult clinic. Participants completed an anonymous survey about health-related social media use, personal health, and communication with their health care team.

Results: Of the 244 patients approached, 204 enrolled (83.6% participation rate). Almost all (98%) had used social media within the prior month, but only 51.5% had shared health information in these networks. These participants shared about mood (76.2%), wellness (57.1%), and acute medical conditions (41.9%). Those with self-reported poor health were more likely to share health information than other groups. Privacy was the most important factor determining which platform to use. Only 25% thought that social media could provide them with useful health information. Few AYAs connected with their health care team on social media and most did not want to use this method; texting was preferred.

Conclusions: AYAs maintain their privacy on social media regarding their health. Those with self-perceived poor health are more likely to share health information, potentially biasing online content and impairing the generalizability of social media research. AYAs do not view social media as a useful source of health information, which may limit the utility of public health messages through these platforms, and it may not be adequate for communication between patients and their health care team.

Keywords: Adolescent health; Health information technology; Privacy; Social media; Young adult.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Communication*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Male
  • Primary Health Care
  • Privacy
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult