Navigating the Online World of Lifestyle Health Information: Qualitative Study With Adolescents (Preprint)

Rebecca Raeside, Si Si Jia, Julie Redfern, Stephanie R Partridge

Research output: Other contributionDiscipline Preprint RepositoryResearch



Adolescence is a critical life stage characterised by an interplay of biological, social and environmental factors. Such factors influence lifestyle health related trajectories, including dietary behaviours, physical activity levels, body weight and sleep hygiene. Generation Z (born 1995-2015) are the most internet-dependent and technologically savvy generation in history with increasing rates of smartphone ownership in both developed and developing nations. Gaps exist in our understanding of what online platforms adolescents are using and the barriers and facilitators of these platforms to seek lifestyle health information.


We evaluated adolescents’ perceptions on the use of contemporary digital platforms (websites, social media platforms and smartphone apps) to seek information or advice related to lifestyle heath.


Virtual focus groups were held via Zoom teleconference between July to August 2021. Eligible participants were 13-18 years, living in Australia and had searched for online lifestyle health information in the previous three months. For this study, lifestyle health information referred to key behaviours and risk factors for chronic disease, namely, diet, physical activity, weight management and sleep. Participants were recruited through an existing database of research participants and networks of the research team. Focus groups were analysed using the Framework approach, where data is systematically searched to recognize patterns in the data and manage, analyse and identify themes. Focus group audio files were transcribed verbatim and independently coded by two researchers (RR, SJ). Through an iterative and reflexive process, a final coding matrix was agreed on by all researchers and used to thematically analyse the data.


Five focus groups were held (n=32, mean age 16.3(1.4), 18/32, 56% female, 13/32, 41% spoke language other than English at home). Thematic analysis revealed participants searched for information both actively (e.g., on Google or YouTube) and passively (e.g., scrolling social media and using existing apps preloaded to their smartphone such as Apple ‘Health’, Samsung ‘Health’ or ‘Google Fit’ apps). Participants identified that the most helpful information was well-organised in terms of aesthetic appeal and layout, came from a credible and reliable source (e.g. any sponsorships disclosed) and expressed the need for the information to be relatable. Mixed views were reported for the application of lifestyle health information found online. Some participants reported behaviour change, while others noted that certain advice was hard to maintain and incorporate into their lifestyle.


This study highlights the abundance and complexity of lifestyle health information online for adolescents. Adolescents in the digital age seek access to information that is appealing, credible, relevant and actionable for lifestyle health behaviours. To appeal to the needs of adolescents, future interventions for adolescents relating to lifestyle health must consider co-design methodological approaches. Furthermore, the regulation of lifestyle health information available online warrants further investigation.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherJMIR Preprints
Number of pages36
Publication statusSubmitted - 23 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


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