Research Alert

Background: Users with experience of eating disorders use the internet as a source of information, whether for prorecovery activities (such as web-based treatment, looking for information, support, and sharing) or activities that promote eating disorder behavior as a desirable lifestyle choice (such as pro–eating disorder communities and reading and creating pro–eating disorder posts). Their assessment of web-based eating disorder–related information is crucial for understanding the context of the illness and for health professionals and their web-based interventions.

Objective: This study aimed to understand the criteria young women with the experience of eating disorders use in evaluating eating disorder–related web-based information and what eating disorder–related characteristics of these women are involved in their evaluation.

Methods: We analyzed 30 semistructured individual interviews with Czech women aged 16 to 28 years with past or present eating disorder experience using a qualitative approach. Thematic analysis was adopted as an analytical tool.

Results: The specifics of eating disorder phases (the disorder stage and the treatment process) emerged as important aspects in the process of information assessment. Other specific characteristics of respondents (eg, motivation, abilities, and resources) addressed how the respondents arrived at certain web-based information and how they evaluated it. In addition, the respondents described some content cues as features of information (eg, novelty and social information pooling). Another finding is that other users’ attitudes, experiences, activities, and personal features are involved in the information evaluation of these users and the information presented by them. Finally, the respondents evaluated the websites’ visual look and graphic components.

Conclusions: This study shows that web-based information evaluation reported by women with experience of eating disorders is a complex process. The assessment is influenced by current personal characteristics related to the illness (mainly the motivation for maintaining or curing the eating disorder) using cues associated with information content, other users, and website look. The study findings have important implications for health professionals, who should ask their clients questions about web-based communities and their needs to understand what information and sources they choose.

Journal Link: Journal of Medical Internet Research

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Journal of Medical Internet Research