How Helpful and What Is the Quality of Digital Sources of Healthy Lifestyle Information Used by Australian Adolescents? A Mixed Methods Study

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Dec 6;18(23):12844. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182312844.


To evaluate the digital platforms most used by adolescents for healthy lifestyle information, perceived helpfulness of platform information, helpfulness for positive behaviour changes, and quality of platforms' lifestyle health information. Mixed-methods study including a cross-sectional online survey and content analysis. Eligible participants were 13-18-years; living in Australia; and had searched online for healthy lifestyle behaviour (nutrition, physical activity, weight management, sleep) information in the previous three months. Survey items examined the use of digital platforms, self-perceived helpfulness, usefulness for positive behaviour, and popular content. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and ordinal logistic regression models. Content analysis was performed on popular digital content to evaluate expertise, objectivity, transparency, popularity, and relevance. In total, 297 participants completed the survey (62.3% female; 15.8 [SD1.5] years). Seventy-eight percent and 77% of participants reported using websites and social media, respectively, for seeking healthy lifestyle information. Websites and social media were rated as somewhat helpful by 43% and 46% of participants, respectively. Sixty-six percent and 53% of participants agreed/strongly agreed smartphone apps and social media were helpful for positive behaviour change, respectively. Helpfulness did not differ by age or gender. We evaluated 582 popular digital content; 38% were produced by a commercial company. Only 7% of content was from health organisations, 10% from health professionals and only 10% of content was objective, and 14% was transparent. Adolescents extensively utilise websites and social media for health information, yet popular content has limited objectivity and transparency. Governments and health organisations should consider creating age-appropriate digital information for healthy lifestyle behaviours.

Keywords: adolescents; chronic disease; nutrition; obesity; physical activity; prevention; smartphone applications; social media; streaming services; websites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Australia
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Healthy Lifestyle*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mobile Applications*