Teens Getting Medical Advice from MySpace May Be in Harm’s Way

Monday, January 12, 2009

Teens are receiving potentially harmful misinformation from peers in health-related interest groups on MySpace, according to a new Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study in the January issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

The Cincinnati Children’s study looked specifically at asthma interest groups and forums on MySpace, and some of the observations were nothing short of shocking. A sample of posts observed in the study said, in essence: "Cocaine helps my asthma. I’ll snort a line and my breathing gets better,” “I would recommend the Flu shot for anyone with asthma," and "Sometimes when I don’t have an inhaler, I stick my head in the freezer. My head gets cold, but it helps my asthma."
Most posts shared a personal story, typically about diagnoses, triggers, problems or experiences. Medication was also a popular topic in posted questions and subsequent advice from other members of the interest groups.

The researchers say their findings may be the tip of the iceberg.  This study revealed some good information but also some rather concerning information said Maria Britto, MD, Assistant Vice President, Division of Adolescent Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s.

Dr. Britto and her team believe that parents, as well as health care professionals, are the key to keeping teens from harming themselves based on misinformation from peers.

"The takeaway for parents is that it’s important to talk to teens about what they’re reading online," says Dr. Britto. "Ask specific questions about what they’re researching and be open to information and ideas that may be new. Ask teens if they think the information makes sense. If your child has a known medical condition, ask regularly what they’ve found new and encourage them to talk to their doctor during the next visit."

"For teens, the main point is they cannot believe everything they find on the Internet," Dr. Britto adds. "Teens should be diligent with their research and look for sources provided by well-known medical institutions," she says. "If you find something that looks interesting, write it down and discuss the information with your parents and health care professional."
Future studies are needed to determine why adolescents turn to the Internet for health information, but in the meantime, parents and health care professionals should be aware of the conversations that are taking place in cyber space and ask questions of teens accordingly.

About Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center is one of America's top three children's hospitals for general pediatrics and is highly ranked for its expertise in digestive diseases, respiratory diseases, cancer, neonatal care, heart care and neurosurgery, according to the annual ranking of best children's hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. One of the three largest children's hospitals in the U.S., Cincinnati Children's is affiliated with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and is one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health.

For its achievements in transforming health care, Cincinnati Children's is one of six U.S. hospitals since 2002 to be awarded the American Hospital Association-McKesson Quest for Quality Prize ® for leadership and innovation in quality, safety and commitment to patient care. The hospital is a national and international referral center for complex cases, so that children with the most difficult-to-treat diseases and conditions receive the most advanced care leading to better outcomes.

Contact Information

Kate Setter, 513-636-1297, katherine.setter@cchmc.org