Scientists from Boston Children’s Hospital in the U.S. found that people’s online interests within geographic areas could help public health researchers track and map obesity rates, and design geotargeted online interventions to reduce the risks. For example, areas where Facebook users “liked” pages related to television were more likely to have high rates of obesity compared to areas whose residents “liked” activity-related pages.
To reach their findings, the research team obtained aggregated Facebook user interest data—what users post to their timeline, “like” and share with others on Facebook—from users within the U.S. and just within New York City. Using two prior telephone-based health surveys involving thousands of people, they then compared percentages of users interested in healthy activities or television. Both surveys record geotagged data on body mass index, which researchers consider a reliable measure of obesity.
“The data show that in places where Facebook users have more activity-related interests, there is a lower prevalence of obesity and overweight,” said co-researcher Dr. Rumi Chunara. “They reveal how social media data can augment public health surveillance by giving public health researchers access to population-level information that they can’t otherwise get.”
Access the full article on the PLoS One site here.