All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Shelia R Cotten

Advisory Committee Members

Patricia Drentea

Melinda A Goldner

Nir Menachemi

Belinda Needham

Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Award

2011

Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation is to examine why people use the Internet for health-related purposes and whether this usage is part of larger pattern of health-promoting behaviors, or health lifestyle. Pierre Bourdieu's concept of habitus provides the key theoretical concept that links health lifestyle theory and the digital inequality framework to explain how socioeconomic status and level of Internet access may contribute to status-specific attitudes and behaviors, or lifestyles. Two dependent variables are used to measure online health behavior: (1) online health information seeking, and (2) an index constructed from six types of online health-related activities. Path analysis is used to examine the effects of key endogenous variables (socioeconomic status and level of Internet access) on attitudes, health behavior, health status, and the two outcome variables while controlling for demographics and other factors. Data comes from the mail mode sample of the National Cancer Institute's 2007 Health Information National Trends Survey. The findings show that people who were most likely to search online for health information tended to have poorer health and participate in fewer offline health promoting behaviors. People who made greater use of online health-related activities tended to be in better health and engaged in a greater number of offline health-promoting behaviors that may represent a broader, collective pattern of status specific behaviors or a health lifestyle. For both outcomes, socioeconomic status and Internet access influenced Internet related attitudes and usage and suggests that social and structural conditions contribute to status-specific Internet use. In conclusion, the results demonstrate that online health behaviors can be usefully conceptualized as a health lifestyle. The combination of health lifestyle theory and digital inequality provides a broader theoretical framework that highlights the importance of social and structural conditions to influence people's habitus and routine health-promoting behaviors. The combination of health lifestyle theory and digital inequality provides a useful theoretical framework for future research investigating persistent social disparities in health and new ways to leverage information and communication technology to narrow gaps in digital inequality and in health disparities.

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