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More Women Get Heart Disease Information from *the Newspaper* Than the Internet?

February 23, 2010

Last week, I posted at Our Bodies Our Blog about a new study of American women’s knowledge of heart disease and prevention published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation. There, I noted my surprise how many women in the sample still did not identify heart disease as the leading cause of death for women, who would not call 911 right away, and who still believed hormone replacement was an effective preventive measure (rather than a risk increaser).

The study survey was not given to a huge sample of women – ~1100 to ~2200 depending on the survey method – but one other item caught my eye that I didn’t get into at the OBOS blog – where the women reported getting their information about heart disease.

The reported sources of information about heart disease were as follows:
-Television: 45%
-Magazines: 32%
-Newspaper: 18%
-The Internet: 14%
Their Doctor: 48%

Really, only 14% for the internet? More women reported getting heart disease info from the newspaper than the internet? In 2009? I find this extremely surprising. I know that not everybody has internet access, but according to Pew, 74% use the internet and 60% have broadband at home; newspaper subscriptions continue to decline. Maybe people are counting online magazines and newspapers as “magazines” and “newspapers” but not including them as part of “the Internet?”

I don’t have a well-developed theory of explanation, I just found it odd. Maybe it was a weird sample. Maybe the question was asked in a less than ideal way. Maybe sources of info on heart disease weren’t specific enough to women to trigger recall in the respondents. The relevant survey question asked respondents where in the last 12 months they had seen, heard, or read about women and heart disease, and provided for multiple choices including: magazine; radio; book; tv; brochure; healthcare professional; newspaper; “Internet or World Wide Web;” friend or relative; library; nothing; don’t know; refused.

Unfortunately, the “library” results are not provided, although I’m not sure how respondents and analysts could reliably sort that out the from books, magazines, newspapers, and web access provided by libraries.

For those who are seeking information on heart disease and women online, here are some good starting points:
MedlinePlus: Heart Disease in Women
National Women’s Health Information Center: Heart Disease
American Heart Association: Women, Heart Disease, and Stroke
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women [PDF]

16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2010 1:40 pm

    I don’t know–I doubt that poll is correct but I’ve tried to stop Googling my symptoms when I get sick because it always leaves me convinced I’m going to die.

    • February 23, 2010 1:51 pm

      Imagine what it’s like to be a medical librarian. 😉 And by the way, I particularly like’s search by symptoms as an alternative to Googling symptoms, because it presents information in context in a manageable way, kind of giving you a guide to when you should or should not freak out. It’s from the American Academy of Family Physicians.

  2. February 25, 2010 10:23 am

    Actually I think there are still a lot of people without Internet. Some that do have it don’t rely on it for their news because the Internet seems to be all over the place with non-factual data. Most people still trust the Newspaper as a reliable source.

    I would think a lot of people get their information from their doctors, or friends. Though I suppose it doesn’t matter how they get it as long as it’s accurate and they can learn form it.

    • February 28, 2010 10:13 am

      Tay, I agree that many people still don’t have Internet on a regular basis. This just struck me because some other prominent surveys of how people use the internet list finding health info as one of the big and common uses.

  3. February 28, 2010 2:28 am

    Agree with Tay that there still are many without internet, especially women, especially women over 55. Then out of those, the women who have limited income.

    When I lived in New York City, had to lean on doctor ten years ago to talk about women and heart disease, ask for stress test. He was far more tuned in about my spouse and the issue.

    • February 28, 2010 10:12 am

      Naomi, the fact that you were leaning on your doc about it 10 years ago makes me grin. Apparently some of them still need it. 😉

  4. February 28, 2010 1:09 pm

    I’m surprised by the Circulation study data regarding the sources of heart disease information.

    Two agencies, at least – the Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics have documented recently that a majority of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 65 go on-line for health information. Both studies established that women are more likely than men to search the Internet for medical resources.

    I wonder if heart disease is covered disproportionately in the newspapers, or if for some reason the women in this study were reluctant to admit that they get heart health information on-line.

  5. March 10, 2010 3:39 pm

    Couldn’t it be Rachel, that most people do get their (common background) knowledge from newspapers/magazines/tv rather than from the Internet? I mean (if you’re not a blogger 😉 you don’t go to the internet to just read about random diseases, we read that in a magazines etc.

    However, when you or one of your relatives or friends have a disease you most probably search Internet, just by googling or whatever. The Pew study seems to deal with the latter, this study with the former.

    And of course, it is true, many people still don’t have an Internet connection.

    • March 10, 2010 7:40 pm

      I’m not saying it’s not possible – just that it surprised me, given declining newspaper circulation and very broad availability of internet access (sure, it’s not ubiquitous, but it’s pretty common). You make a good point, though, that there may be a distinction here between “where did you learn whatever you know about heart disease?” and “where do you go to deliberately look up specific health information?” I also think the survey questions themselves were problematic due to the considerable wiggle room for interpretation – if I read about something on a magazine’s website, is that a magazine, or the internet? The questions as posed don’t allow that distinction in responses to be understood (and it’s especially bad for the “library” choice, given that libraries provide many of the other forms of information that were asked about).

  6. March 10, 2010 9:37 pm

    Last week the Oregonian, THE daily in Portland, laid off 37 people,including one on the Food page, another on Metro. A local weekly commented that along with new absentee ownership, focus had been shifted away from interests of “older women…the ones who are the largest group still reading newspapers [I paraphrase].”

    Many of us were accustomed to focusing our reading on “women’s pages” which had food plus whatever editors saw as local interest from society to human interest stuff. Once these pages were deemed sexist, the Oregonian, to use one example, had a food section and a “metro.” We become attached to the writers on these pages in our effort to feel some connection with communities.

    Your researchers need to take more factors into account about where women by age, by demographic, get their info. I’d like to know about non-English papers in major cities and how important health ideas are parceled out to female readers.

    • March 11, 2010 8:08 am

      Naomi, that’s a good point, too – I don’t recall whether the study had info on preferences/sources by age groups or had English speaking as an inclusion criteria, and will have to take another look.

  7. March 11, 2010 11:16 am

    My mom had a heart attack last year and she got most of her information from the Doctor and the rest from the internet. Who really gets it from tv, newspaper and magazines?

  8. November 3, 2010 12:01 pm

    I have to agree with laikaspoetnik. I for one would have never started searching through blogs to find out more about others experience with heart disease if it were not directly affecting my family(my father). Now that it is a personal experience I pay more attention to what is said in magazines and newspaper, but I do get most of my information from the internet.

  9. Deb permalink
    January 2, 2011 11:05 pm

    I don’t buy the results either. What was the age of most of the women surveyed? That could make a difference. My mother is 72 and rarely goes online. My sisters and I — 44, 45 and 49 — have relied on the internet for our health information for years — particularly sites like NIH/Medlineplus, MayoClinic and JohnsHopkins.

    I can understand women not calling 911 or going to the emergency room right away when they have possible cardiac or other symptoms. I know many women who’ve been treated like hypochondriacs by doctors for going to the emergency room with chest pain or other urgent symptoms. A friend’s mother went to the emergency room with chest pain, and they told her it was just a panic attack. A week later she once again went to the emergency room with chest pain. After further testing, they determined she’d had a heart attack.

    My own aunt went to a “renowned” hospital emergency room complaining of severe stomach pain, and she was told it was just stress and sent home. A week later she was back in the emergency room vomiting and in pain. This time, they took her seriously and did some scans of her abdomen. Turns out she had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She died a month later. Sadly, she had been to her doctor seven months before complaining of abdominal pain, back pain and fatigue. He did an MRI of her abdomen, which he said was normal, then proceeded to tell her that her pain was likely just due to stress.

    Years ago, I went to an emergency room complaining of heart palpitations and was told I was just having a panic attack. A week later, my doctor discovered that I was anemic and had a large mass in my abdomen. Luckily, it was benign. Oh, I forgot to mention that prior to being accurately diagnosed, I had complained of abdominal pain and extreme fatigue to several doctors for five years (some on the Top Doctors list), and all of them told me I was just suffering from anxiety. Some even prescribed anxiety medication.

    I have many female friends who’ve been through similar situations or seen their mothers or sisters go through the very same thing — at least two of these died of final stage cancer.

    It’s no wonder women are afraid to call 911 or go to the emergency room. They don’t want to put themselves through the humiliation of a doctor basically telling them their symptoms are all in their heads.

    Until doctors — male “and” female doctors — start changing their attitudes toward women and taking women’s symptoms as seriously as men’s, nothing is going to change. After all, if you can’t trust your doctor to believe you when you’re in pain, what hope do you have of getting correctly diagnosed with heart disease or any other serious illness.


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