During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to accurate health information is particularly important, especially for children living in resource-poor communities where access to health care and services may be limited. Yet a large proportion of the world’s children are unable to access the internet as much as they want or need to.

For children who rely on school or public networks for internet access, the COVID-19 lockdowns may have cut off their access entirely. This is problematic at a time when access to information, education, friends and entertainment is contingent on internet access, and more important than ever.

But do children regularly use the internet to access health information? And are they able to verify the truth of online information? Global Kids Online, working in collaboration with EU Kids Online, has analysed survey data collected from approximately 22,000 internet-using children aged 12–16 years (and their parents/caregivers) living in 28 countries across 4 continents. Although this research was conducted before the pandemic, it provides a good understanding of how children may now be seeking and using health information.

Our data show that, among children who usually do have internet access, a large proportion use it to search for health information at least monthly. The data also show that while a majority of children in most countries say that they are able to verify if the information they find online is true, a considerable proportion say that they are unable to do so. The proliferation of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic may have made this task even more difficult.

It is time for the global community to ensure that children can access reliable health information in an easy, fair and affordable way. There should be no uncertainty about where to find reliable and up-to-date health information online when so many children need it. Given what we already know about inequalities in children’s online participation, the rationale for closing digital divides has never been starker or more urgent.

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Post author: Sonia Livingstone

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