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May 1, 2006

Internet May Be the Way to Send Youth Health Messages

In a study of Ghanaian teens and their Internet usage, Dina L.G. Borzekowski, EdD, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society, and her Ghanaian coauthors, Julius Fobil and Kofi Asante, learned that approximately 53 percent of teens from Ghana’s capital city of Accra used the Internet to find health information, regardless of their school status, gender, age or ethnicity. The study is one of six articles about teens published today in a special issue of Developmental Psychology.

“In a world where we can sometimes be quick to point out the negative, this is a great example of the media being used in a positive way. The Internet can be a good educational and public health tool for hard-to-reach populations,” said Borzekowski.

The authors surveyed a representative sample of 778 15- to 18-year-olds living in Accra, Ghana, who were either in school or out of school. Participating youth completed self-report surveys of their media use. Whether it was for school, work or personal reasons, 52 percent of out-of-school Internet users had tried to get health information, while 53 percent of in-school Internet users had done the same.

Of important social significance, said the authors was their finding that teens who were not in school used the Internet as an alternative to talking to their parents, who may have less formal education than the parents of teens in school. “A lack of parental education or cultural taboos regarding sexual topics may make it more difficult for many of these [out-of-school] teens to get information on health and sex,” said Borzekowski.

“The Internet is making great strides for youth in developing countries,” said Borzekowski. “The far-reaching and positive use of the Internet is invaluable for adolescents who want to find out more about personal, sensitive and embarrassing issues related to their bodies, relationships and health.”

“Online Access by Accra’s Adolescents: Ghanaian Teens’ Use of the Internet for Health Information” was authored by Dina L. G. Borzekowski, Julius N. Fobil and Kofi O. Asante.

The study was supported by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.