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Older People who Use the Internet are More Likely to Partake In Cancer-Preventive Behaviors

Update Date: Oct 22, 2013 01:04 PM EDT

As people age, their risks of several diseases ranging from hypertension to cancer increase, which is why it is vital for seniors to take preventive measures. These measures, such as exercising and eating healthy can help reduce these risks according to many studies. Several campaigns and initiatives have tried to find ways of improving seniors' participation in cancer-preventive behaviors. In a new study, researchers found that older men and women were more likely to partake in these behaviors if they were Internet users.

For this study, the researchers used the data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, which is a large, population-based cohort study of men and women aged 50 and up. The researchers collected information from 5,943 respondents who were questioned in 2002 and then followed-up on every two years until 2011. The survey asked participants about internet/email use, colorectal and breast cancer screening, eating habits, physical activity levels, physical and cognitive abilities and demographics.

The researchers found that 41.2 percent of the people did not use the Internet whereas 38.3 percent could be considered intermittent Internet users. 20.3 percent of the participants were frequent and consistent Internet users. The researchers found that for both men and women who were consistent users, they were 50 percent more likely to be active when compared to the people from the other two categories. Furthermore, consistent Internet users were 24 percent more likely to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. They were also 44 percent less likely to be smoking at the time of the study.

"We accounted for sociodemographic factors that influence Internet use and various measures of physical capabilities and cognitive function that decline with age, and still found an association between Internet use and cancer-preventive behaviors," said Christian von Wagner, Ph.D., senior lecturer at the University College London, United Kingdom. "The interesting aspect here is a dose-response relationship between Internet use and cancer preventive-behaviors: Intermittent users were more likely to have cancer-preventive behaviors than never-users, and consistent users were more likely to have cancer-preventive behaviors than intermittent users."

The researchers also found that there was a digital divide. They reported that people who were more likely to use the Internet tended to be younger, males, white, wealthier and more educated. The researchers believe that by addressing this digital divide, policy makers could attempt to increase Internet use for people who might not have the means or know-hows.

The study was published in the American Association for Cancer Research's Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention

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