Could Facebook help predict obesity hotspots Areas where people 'like' TV more than sport are less healthy People with television-related Facebook 'interests' more likely to be obeseThose related to a healthy lifestyle are less likely to have weight issues
People's online ‘interests’ could help predict and map obesity rates by area
13:27 GMT, 25 April 2013
13:27 GMT, 25 April 2013
Facebook could be a key tool in mapping which geographical areas have the most overweight and obese people.
American researchers have found that the higher the percentage of people in a city or town with Facebook ‘interests’ suggesting a healthy lifestyle, the lower that area's obesity rate.
At the same time, areas with a large percentage of Facebook users with television-related interests tend to have higher rates of obesity.
People with Facebook 'interests' that suggest a healthy, active lifestyle are less likely to be overweight than those with television-related 'interests'
Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, in the U.S., drew these conclusions after comparing Facebook user data with data from national and New York City-focused health surveys.
They looked at what Facebook users posted to their timeline, ‘liked’ and shared with others.
They then compared the percentage of users interested in healthy activities or television with details of Body Mass Index in the same area.
The comparison revealed close geographic relationships between Facebook ‘interests’ and obesity rates.
For instance, the obesity rate was 12 per cent lower in the location in the United States where the highest percentage of Facebook users expressing activity-related ‘interests’ compared with that in the location with the lowest percentage.
Similarly, the obesity rate in the location with the highest percentage of users with television-related interests nationally was 3.9 per cent higher than the location with the lowest percentage.
The same correlation was reflected in the New York City neighbourhood data as well, showing that the approach can scale from national to local level data.
The obesity rate on Coney Island, which had the highest percentage of activity-related ‘interests’ in the city, was 7.2 per cent lower than Southwest Queens, the neighbourhood with the lowest percentage.
The higher the percentage of people in a city or town with Facebook 'interests' suggesting a healthy lifestyle, the lower that area's obesity rate
At the same time, the obesity rate in Northeast Bronx, the neighbourhood with the highest percentage of television-related ‘interests’, was 27.5 per cent higher than that in the neighbourhood with the lowest percentage – Greenpoint.
They now believe that people's online ‘interests’ could help public health researchers predict, track and map obesity rates by area.
The amount of data available from social networks like Facebook makes it possible to efficiently carry out research with cohorts of a size that was previously impossible.
Dr John Brownstein, from Boston Children’s Hospital, explained: ‘Online social networks like Facebook represent a new high-value, low-cost data stream for looking at health at a population level.
People's online 'interests' could help public health researchers predict, track and map obesity rates by area
‘The tight correlation between Facebook users' “interests” and obesity data suggest that this kind of social network analysis could help generate real-time estimates of obesity levels in an area, help target public health campaigns that would promote healthy behaviour change, and assess the success of those campaigns.’
These findings come just after it was revealed that communicating with friends on Facebook is not a substitute for seeing friends face-to-face.
Researchers at the University of Chester found that people are happier and laugh 50 per cent more when talking face-to-face with friends than when they use social networking sites.
Dr Sam Roberts, senior lecturer at the University of Chester, said such websites don’t appear to help people make true friendships.
Based on two questionnaires, he found there was no link between Facebook use and people with larger groups of friends or more emotionally intense relationships.