Adults with Chronic Disease Often Offline

March 31, 2010

US adults with chronic disease are offline in disproportion to the general population, according to recent data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation.

Sick Adults Have Lower Online Rates
Figures show that adults living with chronic disease are significantly less likely than healthy adults to have access to the internet. Eighty-one percent of adults reporting no chronic disease go online, compared to 62% of adults reporting one or more chronic diseases.

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In addition, within the subgroup of adults suffering from chronic disease, the number of diseases they manage has further impact on their online usage. Sixty-eight percent of adults reporting one chronic disease go online, compared to only 52% of adults reporting two or more chronic diseases.

Statistically speaking, Pew research finds that chronic disease is associated with being older, African American, less educated and living in a lower-income household. By contrast, internet use is statistically associated with being younger, white, college-educated and living in a higher-income household.

Thus, it is not surprising that the chronically ill report lower rates of internet access than other adults. However, when all of these demographic factors are controlled for, living with a chronic disease in and of itself has an independent, negative effect on someone’s likelihood to have internet access.

Sick Adults Use Less Current Technology
Even when they do go online, adults managing chronic disease often use less current means of accessing the internet, and also use cell phones less frequently than healthy adults.

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For example, 16% of adults with one or more chronic diseases and 15% of adults with two or more chronic diseases use dial-up internet access, compared to 12% of healthy adults. And the difference is more pronounced among usage rates of more advanced internet access methods. Sixty-one percent of healthy adults use home broadband internet access, compared to 45% of adults with one or more chronic diseases and 37% of adults with two or more chronic diseases.

Even more of a gap exists in the usage of wireless internet access. Fifty percent of healthy adults use wireless internet access, compared to 31% of adults with one or more chronic diseases and 24% of adults with two or more chronic diseases.

Adults with chronic disease have basic cell phone ownership rates relatively close to that of healthy adults (89% of healthy adults compared to 76% of adults with one or more chronic diseases and 70% of adults with two or more chronic diseases). However, 21% of healthy adults get most or all of their calls via cell phone, compared to 9% of adults with one or more chronic diseases and 11% of adults with two or more chronic diseases.

Furthermore, 60% of healthy adults send and receive text messages, compared to 32% of adults with one or more chronic diseases and 23% of adults with two or more chronic diseases.

Sick Adults Get Info from Health Professionals
More than any other group, people living with a chronic disease remain strongly connected to health professionals and other offline sources of medical assistance and advice:

  • 93% of adults living with a chronic disease ask a health professional for information or assistance in dealing with health or medical issues.
  • 60% ask a friend or family member.
  • 56% use books or other printed reference material.
  • 44% use the internet.
  • 38% contact their insurance provider.
  • 6% use another source not mentioned in the list.

Future Likelihood of Chronic Disease Looks Mixed
Two of the biggest sources of chronic disease among US adults are smoking and excess weight/obesity. Americans’ performance in combating these two public health concerns is mixed, according to a recent Harris Poll. In 2010, 17% of US adults said they smoked cigarettes, down from 20% in 2009 and a five-year high of 24% in 2007.

Unlike tobacco usage, the percentage of US adults who are overweight and obese has risen in the past five years. Using the widely accepted Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement, in 2010, 64% of US adults had a BMI score of 25 or more, indicating they are overweight. Another 29% of US adults had a BMI of 30 or more, indicating obesity. This means a combined 93% of the US adult population has a body weight above healthy limits.

In 2005, 59% of US adults were overweight and 23% were obese according to BMI scores. The percentage of overweight US adults peaked at 66% in 2006 and 2009. 2010 marks the highest percentage of obese US adults.

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