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Trust in and use of COVID-19 information sources differs by health literacy among college students

Chen, Xuewei
McMaughan, Darcy Jones
Li, Ming
Kreps, Gary L.
Ariati, Jati
Han, Ho
Rhoads, Kelley E.
Mahaffey, Carlos C.
Miller, Bridget M.
People’s health information-seeking behaviors differ by their health literacy levels. This study assessed the relationship between health literacy and college students’ levels of trust in and use of a range of health information sources of COVID-19. We collected data from August to December 2020 among college students (n = 763) through an online survey. We used a health literacy measure containing three self-reported survey questions, developed by the CDC. We assessed the extent to which participants trusted and used any of the sixteen different sources of information about COVID-19. Respondents reported high levels of trusting and using COVID-19 information from the CDC, health care providers, the WHO, state/county/city health departments, and official government websites when compared to other sources. After controlling for demographic characteristics (i.e., gender, age, race, ethnicity, and income), those who reported having lower health literacy were significantly less likely to trust and use COVID-19 information from these health authorities when compared to participants who reported having higher health literacy. Students with lower self-reported health literacy indicated not trusting or using official health authority sources for COVID-19 information. Relying on low-quality information sources could create and reinforce people’s misperceptions regarding the virus, leading to low compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures and poor health outcomes.