Residents of U.S. communities with low internet and computer use experience 7 years of shorter life expectancy than their counterparts in communities with high internet and computer use, so says a new research study.

In addition, residents of communities with low internet and computer use are at an increased risk of mortality from various chronic conditions, poor health, mental distress, hospitalization, smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.

These findings were contained in a new research by researchers and policy makers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and published in the journal, International Journal of Translational Medical Research and Public Health.

In the study led by Gopal Singh, PhD, researchers examined the socioeconomic, demographic, and health characteristics associated with computer and internet use in the U.S. They investigated these associations at the individual and community levels using big data from different sources such as the national census, health, and mortality data spanning 2013 to 2019.

According to Dr. Singh, “despite the significant increase in computer and internet use over the past two decades, few studies have examined socioeconomic, demographic, and health characteristics associated with computer and internet use,” adding that “community-level differences in computer and internet use and their associated health disparities have received little attention.”

The study team found startling gaps in broadband internet and computer use and related health inequalities in the U.S. According to the study:

  • More than a quarter million (or 34%) American Indians and Alaska Native adults, 5.1 million (23%) Blacks/African Americans, and 7.2 million (21%) Hispanics lack access to broadband internet.
  • Approximately 5.7 million (27%) adults with less than a high school education or living in poverty do not have broadband internet access.
  • More than 30% of the rural population (or 46 million people) lack access to broadband internet and 20% do not own or use computers. Lack of broadband internet access is particularly acute in small rural towns of America.

This is especially timely research as many health offices are closed and hospitals have shifted focus to testing and treating Coronavirus patients, patients seeking care or treatment services outside of those parameters, such as for prescription changes or refills, are asked to utilize telehealth.

The study also highlights that closing the social divide in internet and computer use can positively impact individual empowerment, educational attainment, economic growth, community development, access to health care and health-related information, and health promotions efforts.