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Insight: As Smartphones Become Health Aids, Ads May Follow


With smartphones changing the culture in so many ways, more and more young people are using their mobile devices to keep track of their health, and the trend is not going unnoticed by advertisers.

Young adults are much more likely than older people to have a smartphone and to use it to look for health information, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which surveys technology trends. And their health concerns differ markedly from those of older people.

Nearly 100 million Americans own a smartphone, but “younger people use them very differently,” said John Mangano, a vice president of comScore, an online research firm. Three of the top five symptoms searched for on Yahoo Mobile in January were early pregnancy, herpes and H.I.V. None of these symptoms showed up among the top searches on desktop computers, which are more likely to be used by older people.

The most popular symptom searches on PCs included gastroenteritis, heart attacks, gout and shingles, Yahoo said, adding that the encyclopedic medical symptoms checker on WebMD was the most popular site of its kind among PC users. On WebMD, the top symptoms searched for in January were muscle strain, gastroenteritis and irritable bowel syndrome.

Older patients often use their desktops to look up side effects of their medications, said Dr. Audrey K. Chun, a geriatrician who heads Mount Sinai Hospital’s Martha Stewart Center for Living in Manhattan. For example, George Yourke, 79, a retired architect, said he used his iMac to learn more about injections prescribed for his knee.

Besides tracking signs of pregnancy and various sexually transmitted diseases, mobile device owners frequently downloaded apps to help manage their eating, drinking and exercise, according to Everyday Health, an online company that has 30 million visitors a month to its health, diet and exercise Web sites.

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