North Texas researcher determines parents still an important health information resource for college-age students


Published: October 13, 2011

scott waltersScott T. Walters, PhD, professor of Behavioral and Community Health at the UNT Health Science Center’s School of Public Health, Fort Worth, Texas, has published new findings regarding the sources that college students use to gather health information, and in particular, the role that parents play in the process. The findings are published in the current issue of the journal Health Promotion Practice.

As part of a nationwide survey, nearly 95,000 students from 117 colleges and universities across the U.S. were asked where they usually received information about health-related topics such as drug use, sexuality and diet, and the extent to which they saw those sources as “believable.”

For college students, the four most believable sources of health information were health center medical staff, health educators, faculty/coursework and parents.  However, three of the sources – health center medical staff, health educators and faculty/coursework – were used at levels much lower than their believability might suggest. Students indicated that these sources were reliable, but that they were less likely to get their health information from them. Other sources such as friends and the Internet, although widely accessed, were seen as relatively unreliable. Parents were the information source that students both used and believed at high levels.

“Our findings suggest a very strong role for parents,” Walters said. “Parents sometimes feel like their college-age children are no longer interested in what they think, but our results show just the opposite. In fact, in some ways, parents are the optimal source for health information.”

Since parents are a widely used and believable source of health information for many students, Walters suggests that colleges use this information to design more effective health information campaigns. For instance, for groups of students who already use parents as a health resource, colleges might focus on providing up-to-date information for parents to share with their children. For groups of students who use parents less, programs might focus on ways to facilitate parent-student communication. Colleges can also provide opportunities for parents and students to communicate about various health topics, particularly in the first few weeks of the school year.

Students were more likely to receive information from one of the four major health sources if they were older, female, enrolled full-time, or Black or Hispanic. Students were more likely to receive information from parents if they were younger, female, White, single or an international student.