BACKGROUND: Exposure to health claims, particularly in the media and social media, is pervasive, and the information conveyed is often inaccurate, incomplete or misleading. Some young people of high school ages are already making decisions about using readily available health interventions (such as sports drinks and beauty products).Although previous research has assessed adults' understanding of health claims, no research has examined this issue in young adults who are attending high school.
OBJECTIVE: To explore high school students' understanding of, and attitudes towards, concepts relevant to assessing health information and claims.
DESIGN: A qualitative study involving semi-structured interviews with 27 Australian high school students. Responses were recorded, transcribed and a thematic analysis performed. Three themes emerged as follows: (i) Variability in sources of health information and claims, and general understanding of their creation and accuracy of content, (ii) The use of substitute indicators to assess health information and claims and make judgements about their trustworthiness, (iii) Uncertainty about, and literal interpretation of, the language of health claims. Despite general scepticism of health claims and admitted uncertainty of research terminology, many students were generally convinced. Students had poor understanding about how health claims are generated and tended to rely on substitute indicators, such as endorsements, when evaluating the believability of claims.
CONCLUSION: School students' lack of awareness of basic health research processes and methods of assessing the accuracy of health information and claims makes them vulnerable to distorted and misleading health information. This restricts their ability to make informed health decisions - a skill that increases in importance as they become adults.