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Saturday, 14 September, 2002, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
Health websites gaining popularity
Many people turn to the web for health advice
Women use the internet to look for health information for themselves and their family significantly more than men, research has found.

The study, by independent research company Datamonitor, says that for this reason health sites should make greater efforts to appeal to women by covering their health concerns.

Sources of health information
Physicians - 76%
Books, magazines, television - 73%
Online - 57%
Friends and family - 53%
The researchers, who quizzed 4,531 adults across France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US, found that websites have become just as important as some offline sources of health information.

Fifty-seven percent of those who looked for health information in the past 12 months consulted internet sources.

Good source

Report author Yvonne MacPherson said: "A distinct advantage of the internet as a source of heath information is that information is easily accessible and can be read in private and at the leisure of the internet user.

Most common health topics searched for online
Living a heathy lifestyle
Women's health
"Good health sites are not meant to replace interaction with a physician. Rather, they help patients prepare for appointments and take more responsibility for their health."

The survey also found that the vast majority of people consider themselves highly health conscious - making them a receptive audience for health information.

Currently, 32-34% of adults aged 18 to 54 used the internet to search for health information.

This number decreases to 27% in the 55 to 64 age group, and further to 14% in the 65 and over age group.

Young internet users often conduct online health research on behalf of older family members who do not use the internet.

Audience will grow

However, Datamonitor says that the audience for health information online will grow naturally as the population ages, and more and more people grow up with the net.

It recommends that website operators focus their efforts on building a good long-term relationship with their existing consumers, rather than on attempting to attract non-internet users.

At present, general health sites and sites run by governments or institutions are more popular than those run by pharmaceutical firms, as they are perceived to be more objective.

However, Datamonitor predicts that pharmaceutical company sites will become incresingly popular as the population ages, given the large proportion of elderly people on medication cmopared to other age groups.

Ms MacPherson said: "Product sites are ideal places for internet users to check information about side effects and dietary requirements ofthe pharmaceuticals they are taking."

See also:

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