An exploratory study of computer screen-based health promotion messages aimed at university students

Flora Douglas, Stephen Brindle, Edwin Van Teijlingen, Paul Fearn, Donna MacKinnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: It is accepted that young people in the UK are familiar with, and are high-level users of a wide range of information technologies. In addition, the health of students in higher education (HE) is causing concern as there is growing evidence that they experience higher levels of psychological ill- health than non-students. At the same time, little attention is focused on young people's health once they leave school. Therefore, the Health Education Board for Scotland (now known as NHS Health Scotland) developed a computer desktop-based health promotion intervention aimed at HE students. The intervention took the form of seven media pieces—specially designed animations or adaptations of existing HEBS multimedia campaign material—presented to students on PC desktops. Some of the media pieces provided a ‘click through’ link to the HEBS website (HEBSWEB). This paper describes the formative evaluation of this initiative.

Methods: The evaluation used a mixed-methods approach, which included a questionnaire survey of and focus groups with HE students. The study was designed to determine students' perceptions and views of the method of delivery, content, tone, relevance and accessibility of the resource. It was also designed to inform the future development of this initiative. Secondary analysis of data recorded automatically by the main computer server hosting the intervention was also conducted.

Findings: Most participants had noticed the intervention, and thought that using computer networks was a good way to reach students with health information. Females viewed it more positively than males. However, while some students associated this intervention with health issues, others did not. Most expressed a preference for the adapted pre-existing HEBS media pieces over the specially designed animations. A few students reported clicking through to HEBSWEB, at levels consistent with HEBS existing computer-based screen saver access, but many had been unaware that they could do so. Respondents in one university expressed more irritation with the intervention than the other, believing it responsible for slowing down computer speed. A few also perceived the intervention as synonymous with commercial advertising. Suggested improvements included views that each media piece should run for longer periods of time; that more factual information and shock tactics should be included in the images; and that placing the intervention on the university home web page and other sites within the university's physical environment would help to raise awareness of the intervention.

Conclusions: The use of networked computers, as a medium to reach university students with health messages, seems to be an appropriate and credible health promotion strategy. However, further development of the images and underlying messages, as well as consideration of the ‘placement’ of this intervention within a computer network, is required to improve the general appeal, acceptability and salience of this initiative with the intended target audience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-126
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Health Promotion and Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • computers
  • health informatics
  • health promotion
  • students
  • young people
  • Scotland


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