Chronic Diseases and Sociodemographic Characteristics Associated With Online Health Information Seeking and Using Social Networking Sites: Nationally Representative Cross-sectional Survey in Japan

J Med Internet Res. 2023 Mar 2:25:e44741. doi: 10.2196/44741.


Background: In an aging society, worsening chronic diseases increase the burden on patients and the health care system. Using online health information including health information via social networking sites (SNSs), such as Facebook and YouTube, may play an important role in the self-management of chronic diseases and health promotion for internet users.

Objective: This study aims to improve strategies for promoting access to reliable information for the self-management of chronic diseases via the internet, and to identify populations facing barriers to using the internet for health, we examined chronic diseases and characteristics associated with online health information seeking and the use of SNSs.

Methods: This study used data from the INFORM Study 2020, which was a nationally representative cross-sectional postal mail survey conducted using a self-administered questionnaire in 2020. The dependent variables were online health information seeking and SNS use. Online health information seeking was assessed using 1 question about whether respondents used the internet to find health or medical information. SNS use was assessed by inquiring about the following 4 aspects: visiting SNSs, sharing health information on SNSs, writing in an online diary or blog, and watching a health-related video on YouTube. The independent variables were 8 chronic diseases. Other independent variables were sex, age, education status, work, marital status, household income, health literacy, and self-reported health status. We conducted a multivariable logistic regression model adjusted for all independent variables to examine the associations of chronic diseases and other variables with online health information seeking and SNS use.

Results: The final sample for analysis comprised 2481 internet users. Hypertension or high blood pressure, chronic lung diseases, depression or anxiety disorder, and cancer were reported by 24.5%, 10.1%, 7.7%, and 7.2% of respondents, respectively. The odds ratio of online health information seeking among respondents with cancer was 2.19 (95% CI 1.47-3.27) compared with that among those without cancer, and the odds ratio among those with depression or anxiety disorder was 2.27 (95% CI 1.46-3.53) compared with that among those without. Further, the odds ratio for watching a health-related YouTube video among those with chronic lung diseases was 1.42 (95% CI 1.05-1.93) compared with that among those without these diseases. Women, younger age, higher level of education, and high health literacy were positively associated with online health information seeking and SNS use.

Conclusions: For patients with cancer, strategies for promoting access to websites with reliable cancer-related information as well as access among patients with chronic lung diseases to YouTube videos providing reliable information may be beneficial for the management of these diseases. Moreover, it is important to improve the online environment to encourage men, older adults, internet users with lower education levels, and those with low health literacy to access online health information.

Keywords: chronic diseases; cross-sectional study; eHealth literacy, health communication; internet, social networking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension*
  • Information Seeking Behavior*
  • Japan
  • Male