Sources for Health Information
Parents (“guardians”) can rest assured that they remain the single most cited source of health information for Qatari teens, followed closely by friends, brothers or sisters, doctors and nurses. All of these are personal communication sources. However, three online platforms--YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat--also belong to this top group of health information sources (Table 5).
Still, more than half of our respondents also mention leaflets and pamphlets from hospitals, TV news, TV shows other than news, medical websites and books. The least frequently used sources for health information are Facebook, radio, print media, online forums, online magazines, and news articles. Health classes at school are literally in the middle of the rank order, with 49 percent.
Among Qatari teenagers, Arabic is the most popular language to look up health information: More than four-fifths (82 percent) of our respondents use it. Only a little more than a quarter (27 percent) also use English (Chart 1).
Using online health searches. Most Qatari youth look up health information online fairly frequently. More than 40 percent of teens claim to seek health information online at least once a week and a fifth (20 percent) do so daily. Only six percent never look for health information on the internet (Chart 2).
All in all, a large majority of Qatari teenagers is satisfied with the health information on the internet: As many as 82 percent reply “yes” to the question: “In general, are you satisfied with the health information you’ve gotten from the internet?”
How Teens Look for Health Information Online
Search methods. Among the 94 percent of teens who use the internet for health information less than once a year or more, over four-fifths say they “often” start their searches by googling a topic. However, it is also quite common for teens to stumble upon health information: Three fourths of Qatari adolescent internet users claim that they come across the information “while browsing.” Almost as frequent is “going directly to a specific health website” and “using links from social media.” In other words, finding health information through intentional/active searches and accidental encounters seem to fairly hold the balance (Chart 3).
Social Networking Sites as a Source of Health Information
How popular are Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites (such as Reddit, Instagram, or Tumblr) for finding information or advice on a health topic? Twitter is the most popular among Qatari teens, with half of them saying they use it for health information. Facebook seems to divide the genders--twice as many boys (27 percent) than girls have ever used it for health information (12 percent). Interestingly, a third of all respondents told us that they find health information by following links from social media at least “sometimes” (Table 6).
Awareness of Health Campaigns
Not a single health campaign seems to have reached a majority of Qatari teens--even though our questionnaire tried to jog their memory by providing them with a list of the most important recent campaigns in Qatar. The most impressive of them was “Kulluna for Health & Safety,” an initiative organized by Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) since 2012. This campaign aims to support the Qatar National Vision by raising public awareness about various health and safety issues such as heart health and children’s safety. However, a little less than half of our respondents claimed to have encountered it (Chart 4).
“Beautiful Smile” from Qatar’s Primary Health Care Corporation--a campaign about dental health--was next. At least more than a third of Qatari teens recognized “Your Healthy Choice,” a project under the “Your Health First” or the “Sahatak Awalan” initiative organized by Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar that aims to encourage healthier food choices, “Qatar Patient Safety Week” by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), “Think Pink Awareness Week” about breast cancer and organized by various Qatar Foundation institutes and universities, “Screen for Life” for breast and bowel screenings organized by the MoPH, HMC, National Cancer Program and the Primary Health Care Corporation, and finally - “Early Detection Saves Lives,” an initiative by HMC which also aims to raise awareness and educate the community about breast cancer.
Why Young People Look for Health Information Online
For the 94 percent of teens who looked for health information online “less than once a year” or more, the most common reason to do so was to find (additional) information about their own health condition: “to check my symptoms or to find out what was wrong with me” and “to learn how to treat an illness, condition, or injury I had.” More than two thirds (69 percent) mentioned at least one of these two purposes. More than half also cited the following reasons for seeking health information online: a school project, to get more information after a doctor’s visit, to get information about medications, and simply because a family member or a friend recommended a specific website. Interestingly, almost half (48 percent) of online health-seekers claim to turn to the internet for health information that they “couldn’t talk to their guardians about” (Chart 5).
However, using online health information as a substitute for one’s guardians is put into perspective by the answers to a more forthright inquiry: “If you had a question about a sensitive health topic, how likely would you do each of the following”? Menstruation and depression were presented as examples to our respondents. Here the internet plays a much weaker role, as less than a fifth of our respondents (18 percent) would “very likely” look up a sensitive health topic online. Only eight percent would talk to someone about this type of topic online. In contrast, the most popular source for these kinds of health issues is one’s mother (35 percent), followed by other personal sources including fathers, doctors or nurses, and friends (Table 7).
Accessing Sensitive and Problematic Information Online
Just as teens can use the internet as a tool for preventive health—e.g. learning how to eat well, stay fit, and reduce stress—it can also expose them (or offer access to) information that could potentially contribute to unhealthy behaviors. Teens who are interested in smoking at an early age or who are engaging in eating disorders may actually seek out information that fuels those unhealthy behaviors. Others may simply come across such information when browsing online.
We asked the older Qatari teenagers in our sample (grades 10 to 12) how often they had “come across” certain types of information online (whether on purpose or not) that could contribute to less healthy behaviors. They were explicitly reminded that they could refuse to answer. About a fifth of our respondents found “extreme ways to lose weight” at least “sometimes” on the internet. Less than a fifth admits to have “sometimes” encountered “inappropriate sites” (a veiled expression for pornography), “how to obtain steroids” and “how to obtain cigarettes or shisha.” The low figure for the latter (eleven percent) is not surprising: The internet is not necessary to find out how to get cigarettes (Chart 6).