Information to fight the flab: findings from the Net.Weight Study

Audrey Marshall, Flis Henwood, Leslie Carlin, Elizabeth S. Guy, Tanja Sinozic, Helen Smith
2009, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 39-52

Abstract


The purpose of the paper is to examine information use and information literacy in the context of weight management. It reports on a two-year study funded by the Department of Health known informally as the Net.Weight Study. Net.Weight examined the potential for increased, innovative and effective uses of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to support the self management of weight. The research was conducted in the city of Brighton & Hove by an inter-disciplinary team from the University of Brighton. The paper gives a brief overview of the various methods used in the study as a whole but discusses one strand, the user survey, in more detail. The survey gathered data on people’s information and ICT use around weight management. The design of the survey questionnaire required the adaptation of existing literacy assessment instruments and this process is described in this paper. The findings show that people use a wide range of information sources for information and support around weight management. The most useful sources are slimming groups, food packaging, friends and family, magazines, TV and health books, thus representing a variety of media, formal and informal, and including human sources. The internet was reported to be a useful source for around half the survey respondents and is most often used for information about diet and exercise. A majority of respondents described themselves as active information seekers and confident about their information skills. They are less confident about internet information than information generally and even less confident about using the internet to support weight management activities.

The concept of literacies, particularly around information and health, provide a framework for examining the Net.Weight findings. The findings are discussed in terms of their implications for health information policy and for those interested in applying information literacy theory to health. The role of healthcare practitioners in weight management information is addressed, as is the need for targeted rather than generic health information. It is suggested that the work done in the education sector to increase awareness of information literacy and improve skills could provide a useful model of good practice in a health context. However, the evidence provided by the Net.Weight study suggests that for such an approach to be relevant it needs to reflect the complexity of health information processes in everyday lives.

Keywords


Information literacy; health literacy; e-health literacy; health information; weight management

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