Sunday, October 20, 2013

Are You What You Read or Do You Read What You Are?

The environment plays a significant role in our health. We are exposed to multiple physical, chemical and biological challenges, including information  - like news and gossip stories related to health and wellness. How exactly is it affecting us?

University of Pennsylvania researchers surveyed over two thousand US adults 40 to 70 years of age on how they scanned for information about specific health behaviors. The researchers followed up one year later to see how participants' behaviors changed. The result?  Consumption of health information does affect specific behaviors. But the effect is not as straightforward or as strong as one might think.

As was shown earlier, people who seek information about particular health issues are typically in the middle of making a decision, and need information to ease anxiety or reinforce confidence in their already made decision. The recent study also shows that people already motivated to change their behavior may be more motivated to scan information about this change of behavior. But exposure to information might not be helpful if they have not made a decision yet.

For example, women actively scanning information about breast cancer after getting a mammogram are more likely to get another one next year compared to those who consume the same amount of information but have not made up their mind about getting a mammogram yet. People that exercise and eat healthy are more likely to continue doing so one year later than those not adhered to healthy behaviors yet, despite the same amount of health-related information consumed during the past year.

Online content discovery platform Outbrain did their own research and found similar if not more dramatic results. Analysis based on total U.S. page views across Outbrain’s network of 100,000+ publisher sites during the month of June 2013 as well as data from the external sources is captured on the figure. Surprised? Health content consumption actually positively correlates with unhealthy weight.

The more obese people live in the region, the more they read online about health. Reading a lot about jobs does not lower unemployment rates either. Information about relationships does help to avoid divorce though. So reading can be good for you. But not sufficient. After all, it was Albert Einstein who said -  Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.


Hornik R, Parvanta S, Mello S, Freres D, Kelly B, & Schwartz JS (2013). Effects of Scanning (Routine Health Information Exposure) on Cancer Screening and Prevention Behaviors in the General Population. Journal of health communication PMID: 24083417

Bennett, A. 7 Surprising (or not?) Facts about the Content Americans Consume. Outbrain blog. October 16, 2013