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Web-based health information seeking: A small-scale comparative study between Finnish and South African university students

Annika Rantala (Department of Information Studies, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland)
Heidi Enwald (Department of Information Studies, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland)
Sandy Zinn (Department of Library & Information Science, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa)

Library Hi Tech

ISSN: 0737-8831

Article publication date: 30 July 2019

Issue publication date: 25 October 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine differences of health information seeking among Finnish and South African university students. The focus is on weight management and on how students utilise various internet sources.

Design/methodology/approach

Data were collected with a web-based, structured survey by using convenience sampling. Descriptive statistics and Pearson’s χ2 test were utilised in the analysis.

Findings

Overall, health information was more often encountered than sought on purpose. Passive information seeking was more common for South African students as almost a third of them report encountering it several times a week. As an information source, South African students opted for social networking sites more frequently than search engines, the latter being the first choice for Finnish students. Discussion boards were more popular among South African students, and, on the other hand, web-based health calculators among Finns.

Research limitations/implications

This is a small-scale comparative study. The results are not to be generalised, but may provide clues about the information seeking differences between Finland and South Africa.

Practical implications

Media literacy, digital literacy and health information literacy of young adults should be emphasised so that they would be able to evaluate information for reliability and accuracy in order to help them make appropriate decisions when confronted by health information online.

Social implications

The implications of the study are that health providers and professionals should be more prominent on social media sites, which are popular ways for young people to discover information.

Originality/value

Comparative studies are rare. This comparison is between Finland, where internet penetration is 94 per cent, and South Africa, where internet penetration is 54 per cent.

Keywords

Citation

Rantala, A., Enwald, H. and Zinn, S. (2019), "Web-based health information seeking: A small-scale comparative study between Finnish and South African university students", Library Hi Tech, Vol. 37 No. 4, pp. 933-944. https://doi.org/10.1108/LHT-08-2018-0109

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited