Research on health information exposure focuses primarily on deliberate information seeking behavior and its effects on health. By contrast, this study explores the complementary and perhaps more influential role of health information acquired through exposure to routinely used sources, called scanning. The authors hypothesized that scanning from nonmedical sources, both mediated and interpersonal, affects cancer screening and prevention decisions. The authors used a nationally representative longitudinal survey of 2,489 adults 40 to 70 years of age to analyze the effects of scanning on 3 cancer screening behaviors (mammography, prostate-specific antigen [PSA], and colonoscopy) and 3 prevention behaviors (exercising, eating fruits and vegetables, and dieting to lose weight). After adjustment for baseline behaviors and covariates, scanning at baseline predicted weekly exercise days 1 year later as well as daily fruit and vegetable servings 1 year later for those whose consumption of fruits and vegetables was already higher at baseline. Also, among those reporting timely screening mammogram behavior at baseline, scanning predicted repeat mammography. Scanning was marginally predictive of PSA uptake among those not reporting a PSA at baseline. Although there were strong cross-sectional associations, scanning did not predict dieting or colonoscopy uptake in longitudinal analyses. These analyses provide substantial support for a claim that routine exposure to health content from nonmedical sources affects specific health behaviors.
“Effects of Scanning (Routine Health Information Exposure) on Cancer Screening and Prevention Behaviors in the General Population.” Journal of Health Communication, 2013.