Updated 23 October 2013

Internet encourages healthy living in seniors

Older men and women who use the internet frequently are more likely to have a lifestyle that includes many cancer-preventive behaviours.


Older men and women who use the internet frequently are more likely to have a lifestyle that includes many cancer-preventative behaviours, according to a new study.

Compared to their peers who don't use the internet, online aficionados were screened for colorectal cancer more often and were more likely to be physically active, eat a healthy diet and smoke less. Researchers also found that the more time older adults spent on the internet, the more likely they were to engage in these healthy behaviours.

The study appeared in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The findings held even after researchers accounted for people's socioeconomic status, physical abilities and mental function, study author Christian von Wagner, a senior lecturer in behavioural research in early diagnosis of cancer at the University College London, said in a journal news release.

Dose-response relationship

"The interesting aspect here is a dose-response relationship between internet use and cancer-preventive behaviours," von Wagner said. "Intermittent users were more likely to have cancer-preventive behaviours than [nonusers], and consistent users were more likely to have cancer-preventative behaviours than intermittent users."

The study involved nearly 6 000 men and women aged 50 and older who completed surveys every two years between 2002 and 2011, on their demographics, mental abilities, physical activity and diet. They also were asked about their internet and email usage and colorectal and breast cancer screenings.

The researchers found that 41% of those surveyed said they did not use the internet, 38% reported using the internet sporadically and 20% were online regularly.

Although internet use didn't affect women's decisions to be screened for breast cancer, those who regularly used the internet were twice as likely to be screened for colorectal cancer, the study revealed.

Both male and female regular internet users were 50% more likely to exercise and 24% more likely to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, according to the study. People who used the internet consistently also were 44% less likely to smoke.

The study also revealed that demographics play a role in how much people use the internet. Use was more prevalent among those who were younger, white and had more money and education. Men also were online more than women. Meanwhile, internet use was much less prevalent among the disabled and those who were older, less wealthy and non-white.

"It is important that policymakers recognise the role internet use plays in influencing inequalities in cancer outcomes, and help increase access to the internet among this demographic," von Wagner said.

Although the study showed an association between internet usage and cancer-preventative behaviours, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute explains how to evaluate online sources of health information.

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