diabetesNew research by the international Longevity Centre– UK (ILC-UK) reveals a continuing generational divide in access to and trust of health information. The research finds that older people are more likely to use and trust doctors and nurses whilst younger people are more likely than older to look towards pharmacists and online and telephone services. 

 “Next Generation Health Consumers”, supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Pfizer, explores where consumers go to seek out health information and who they trust. Launching the report, ILC-UK argue that the diverse demands for health information across the generations strengthen the case not to cut traditional health information services and simply replace them with online and telephone services. 

Whilst older people in the UK are more likely to report excellent or very good health than those in Germany, France and Portugal, 12% of people aged under 24 in the UK reported fair or poor health, a figure much higher than found in Germany, France and Portugal. In addition, one in seven of our UK survey respondents aged over 65 report it very difficult to find health information.

The research also finds that healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses are the most frequently used and trusted sources of health information but they are still sometimes underused. Older people in the UK are more likely than younger people to go to their GP to seek advice on healthy ageing. Older people also tend to have higher levels of confidence in GPs than younger people. Only around 7 in 10 people in the UK said they would ‘definitely’ go to the doctor if they found a lump on their neck, or if they wanted information about a long-term illness, while only just over half (51.4%) would go to the doctor for information about staying healthy. 

Younger people are more likely than older to trust pharmacists: Four out of five people aged 24 or below consider pharmacists to be ‘always/ mostly’ trustworthy compared with over half (56.7%) of people aged 65 or above. While levels of trust may have been lower for those aged 65 and over, pharmacists represent the most helpful source for receiving more health information among this group. Young people aged 24 or under are also more likely than other age groups to say that they are ‘definitely’ or ‘very likely’ to go to a medical helpline for further information on any particular health issue. Younger people in UK are twice as likely as older people to “definitely” contact a medical helpline in the event of finding a lump on their neck. Levels of trust in medical helplines declines with age in the UK. And just 5.4% of people aged 34 or under and 7.2% of those over 55 would find it helpful to get more health information from this source.

Sally-Marie Bamford, Research Director at ILC-UK said “said “Whilst the majority of us do not find it difficult to access health information, this research highlights that there are millions who struggle. This research highlights that there isn’t a one size fits all solution. Older and younger people trust and use different sources of health information. If we are to have an empowered and healthy older population, improving access to health information is vital. As new ways of communicating become more commonplace we must not forget the diversity of our population. We must work to raise the health literacy of all ages.”

Launching the report, ILC-UK urge health information providers to recognise the need for significantly different tools to communicate health messages to older and younger people. The report urges service providers to continue to invest in tackling digital exclusion and encourages Governments and Health and Social Care professionals to do more to develop health literacy as part of strategy to help raise awareness among population of how to look after themselves.