Young adults regret health decisions based on bad info

young adults, health misinformation
Laura Chouette

Almost half of young adults in the UK have said they made a health decision they regret based on misinformation, often from online content creators.

That’s one of the findings of a 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer special report (PDF) focusing on health, which warns that countering misleading health information is becoming harder as young people are exposed to ever-wider sources of information, but are increasingly losing their trust in government.

All told, 54% of young adults in the 18 to 34 age bracket said they had taken health advice from online creators, friends, and family instead of a doctor, compared to 25% of the over-55s.

Other behaviours reported more frequently in the survey included self-diagnosing physical and mental health conditions, stopping prescription medicine before they were supposed to, and ignoring advice from doctors and public health authorities.

The perils of that have not gone unnoticed, however, as 47% of them acknowledged they regretted a health decision taken as a result, compared to 17% of the older age group.

Similar findings were found across the 16 countries covered in the report, with the overall proportion of young people regretting a health decision overall at 41%.

Product advertising, friends and family, and user-generated content were cited as the top three sources of misinformation, with content creators without medical training the top source of misinformation among those who regretted health decisions.

At the same time, less than a third of young people (29%) say they trust governments to address their health needs and concerns, bringing them roughly into line with older generations (35%), but 45% still expect governments to play a large role in keeping them healthy.

“These results are a stark reminder that health misinformation causes serious harm, and the scale of the issue is extremely concerning. Even if bogus medical advice is not actively harmful, it can still prevent people from seeking prompt treatment from a genuine expert,” said Eleanor Read, managing director of health at Edelman UK.

“Though young people are clearly aware of the dangers, the fact so many still fall victim to misleading health advice suggests social media platforms, regulators, and [...] government need to do more to counter health misinformation,” she added.

A majority of young adults also expressed significant concerns about their future health, with the top worries another pandemic and the affordability of care – both cited by 56% of respondents – closely followed by the politicisation of medical science at 55%, which has climbed up the rankings in the last year.

Another finding in the report was that many more people across all age ranges are uncomfortable with the use of artificial intelligence for patient interactions with healthcare providers, such as the use of chatbots for medical inquiries, with opinions split on AI for drug development and medical diagnosis.

More than half of those polled (55%) said they believed technology will have a negative impact on healthcare in the next five years due to factors like increased cost, unwanted information, and compromised health privacy.

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash