A new study finds that older men and women who used the Internet are more likely to engage in cancer-preventive health behaviors.
Internet users were found to participate in screening for colorectal cancer, perform physical activities, eat healthier and smoke less compared with those who did not use the internet.
In the study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, researcher’s evaluated data collected as part of an English study on aging.
The English Longitudinal Study of Aging is a population-based, cohort study that includes data collected from men and women aged 50 or older. From analysis of collected information, investigators discovered that men and women who were consistent internet users were twice as likely to participate in colorectal screening as nonusers.
Moreover, both men and women who used the Internet consistently were also 50 percent more likely to take part in regular physical activity, 24 percent more likely to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and 44 percent less likely to be current smokers.
There was, however, no association between Internet use and participation in breast cancer screening among women.
“We accounted for sociodemographic factors that influence internet use and various measures of physical capabilities and cognitive function that decline with age, and still found an association between internet use and cancer-preventive behaviors,” said Christian von Wagner, Ph.D.
“The interesting aspect here is a dose-response relationship between Internet use and cancer preventive-behaviors: Intermittent users were more likely to have cancer-preventive behaviors than never-users, and consistent users were more likely to have cancer-preventive behaviors than intermittent users.”
Von Wagner and colleagues, however, identified a “digital divide.” Internet use was higher in younger, male, white, wealthier, and more educated participants and lower in older, less wealthy, and nonwhite individuals with physical disabilities.
“It is important that policymakers recognize the role Internet use plays in influencing inequalities in cancer outcomes, and help increase access to the internet among this demographic,” he said.
The researchers used data from 5,943 respondents who answered questions collected in wave one in 2002, and were followed up with questions every two years in waves two to five, until 2011.
Questions included Internet/email use, self-reported colorectal and breast cancer screening, physical activity, eating habits, physical and cognitive abilities, and demographics.
Among the study participants, 41.4 percent reported not using the Internet, 38.3 percent reported using the Internet in waves one to three (intermittent users), and 20.3 percent reported using the Internet in all five waves (consistent users).