The Latest Tool for Tracking Obesity? Facebook Likes

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Obesity is a big problem that needs big solutions, and Facebook may be coming to the rescue.

In a way that’s never been possible before, people can record their interests, habits and daily activities that at first blush might seem to have only trivial meaning. But such data can be accessed by almost anyone (depending on privacy settings, of course), and that includes researchers. Scientists are turning to Facebook as a way to track how obesity trends, for example, correlate with geographically-specific trends in diet and exercise,  and hope that such information can lead to more targeted ways of reversing the obesity epidemic.

The researchers, from Boston Children’s Hospital, aggregated data on Facebook users’ interests and discovered that the higher percentage of people with interests that related to healthy and active lifestyles in a given area, the lower was that region’s obesity rate. The opposite was true for areas with a large percentage of people with Facebook interests that related to television, for example.

To come up with the link, the scientists studied what national Facebook users posted on their timelines, what they “liked,” and what they shared with their friends to come up with nation-wide associations.They also looked specifically at users within New York City and found similar trends at the neighborhood level, documenting that communities with more residents expressing interest in healthy lifestyle behaviors and products showed lower obesity rates than those where residents tended to show more interest in television shows.

(MORE: Why Facebook Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself)

Nationwide, obesity rates were 12% lower in areas where the highest percentage of Facebook users had exercise-related interests. In New York City, Coney Island, which had the highest percentage of users with activity-related interests had a 7.2% lower obesity rate than Southwest Queens, which had the lowest percentage of Facebook users with active interests. The power of the strategy, the scientists said, lay in the social media’s ability to focus on both national as well as local trends.

“Definitely in public health [Facebook] is a great source for identifying where we should target public health interventions,” says Rumi Chunara, an instructor at Boston Children’s Hosptial and Harvard Medical Center and author of the study, which was published in the journal, PLOS ONE. “At the same time, because this is a real time source, we can also evaluate the status of other interventions.”

Such assessments may be social media’s most important contribution to fighting the obesity epidemic, says experts, since many of the current strategies to reverse the tide aren’t working. “In order to combat obesity, we have to look beyond what we have been doing because it really hasn’t worked, which is the traditional diet and exercise,” says Dr. Jennifer Li, a professor of pediatrics and division chief of pediatric cardiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.. “One way of reaching people is through social media since most people are connected through Facebook and Twitter and various social media. Li lead an American Heart Association study on using social media to fight childhood obesity.

(MORE: Why You’re More Likely to Remember A Facebook Status Than a Face)

“We have to look at ways to reach out to people, and one of the things you can look at is how people cluster,” she says. “People cluster in social media just as well as they do in real life. If you smoke, your friends are more likely to smoke. If you’re obese, you’re friends are more likely to be obese. If you can make an impact on the group, you can have a ripple effect.”

Some programs are already exploiting the power of the interactivity of these networks; Weight Watchers, for example, has an online network of dieters, with apps and updates in addition to their traditional meetings. Programs like Weigh2Rock is another weight loss website targeting overweight kids via chat-rooms with dietitians.

“These can be used as a reinforcement tool if [programs] use the social media and websites to get supplementary information like diet advice and exercise advice to users. If there’s reciprocal interactions between the group and whoever is managing it, you can build in support,” says Li.

(MORE: Who Wields The Most Influence On Facebook?)

The very feature that makes these strategies so powerful, however — the openness and transparency of the connection that users feel — could also make them vulnerable to exploitation. While healthy brands and weight loss programs abound on Facebook and Twitter, so do less qualified programs and not-so-healthy brands that increasingly capitalize on the massive online audience. Jennifer Harris, the director of marketing initiatives at Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, studies food marketing aimed at children and teens, and has focused on how brands use social media to target them.

“There are so many children on Facebook especially, and the food companies all have Facebook pages that kids can ‘like,’ and when they ‘like’ the page, they are constantly seeing posts on their newsfeed and their friends can also see these posts from the companies,” says Harris. “Unfortunately, almost all of them are unhealthy food. If you look at the top 20 brands on Facebook, Facebook is number one, but then Coca-Cola is next with more than 60 million likes, followed by other brands like Oreos, Red Bull, Skittles, Pringles. These are all in the top 20 food brands on Facebook.”

Harris says fast food restaurants and energy drink companies are also actively using social media to target teens by creating YouTube videos. By enhancing the appeal of the posts and videos with lively humor and music, the companies are appealing to kids ‘and teens’ tastes and increasing the chances their hits will be shared with their friends.

“For teenagers, a message that comes from your friend is much more powerful than something that comes from a parent or teachers, so that’s another reason we think social media is used by companies that target teens,” says Harris.

(MOREIs Self-Help the Secret to Reducing Childhood Obesity?)

Unfortunately, while weight loss organizations and healthy lifestyle brands use social media too, their efforts have hardly been as appealing or as viral as those of the less healthy ones. “I think there is an opportunity [for healthy organizations to reach teens with social media], but with kids it has to be fun and entertaining, and [it’s hard] to make “eat healthy” messages fun and entertaining. I think we are just not as good at designing those messages as the companies that market to kids are,” she says.

There’s also the double-edged sword of relying on a social media outlet, which requires children to be online, to promote healthy, active lifestyles. Too much screen time can often contribute to a more sedentary lifestyle, so advocates of physical activity recognize their efforts have to balance that risk with the benefits of reaching people, especially young children, in a way that appeals to them.

“I think the mainstay of weight loss is diet and exercise, and a very important thing is prevention and education in the schools. I think social media is a way to reach a lot of people, but it doesn’t become a substitute for diet and exercise,” says Li. “It is a way to have people be incentivized, because a lot of people communicate right now through social media. It is not a replacement, but it reinforces behavior.”

8 comments
MayWong
MayWong

This is an interesting article. I have bought facebook likes from www.singaporefanpage.com

And they provided me fantastic real singapore facebook likes. I would highly recommend you their services. No doubt they best services for facebook likes in Singapore 

CarrieMuir
CarrieMuir

Obesity is rampant all over the world. There are tools that will help you succeed, but if you don't know about them you can't use them. It is my goal to help get these tools in the hands of each and every individual that needs them. I have a support group that has people from all over the world in it. We support one another, share recipes, tips and we motivate each other daily. We would love to have you join us. If you or anyone you know is suffering from Obesity and they want to change please feel free to join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/yournewyou.2013/


MarleneFrantzPletcher
MarleneFrantzPletcher

Obesity is one of the biggest problems these days!!! so it is my mission to help everyone I can on their weight loss journey,I have an awesome weight loss support group with wonderful members and low carb recipes,tips,great info,crafts you name it we have it come join us 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/marlenesfriends/

mkb
mkb

Obesity and metabolic quartet is a major challenge to the world. As we evolve technologies to our daily living our body adopts internally very beautifully. Human body can store energy it can spend the energy thus one can balance the body energy levles. modern technologies had made lots Hard working and long walking a redundant events, what is sad is that Human body has evolved around these things to make our life sustainable and happy.

We have to use all the tissues in our body to maintain the energy  equilibrium in the body. Energy can not be created or destroyed it can change one form to the other. we have to change the forms by spending the energy and save our save our selves. 

Only walking can reduce the amount of glucose circulating in the blood.

right walking spend the excess glucose in the body and also provides more muscles  in the body to store the excess glucose.

Learn right walking and stay Healthy.

disclaimer :Take appropriate medical advice from professionals.

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FreddyBright1
FreddyBright1

That is expected considering Facebook is doing a lot of things lately they even stop Path for finding your stalkers. tsk. the As Vivek Sood, famous author of The 5-Star Business Networks said on his book and blog if you want to stay in the business you should change your obsolete business model or you can just simply keep up with the pace of innovation that way you wouldn't be left in the dumps. FB is attacking the health market which is good thinking. Hope that they would create something that really affects the 'fats' to burn

thewholetruth
thewholetruth

We are 100 million in the USA insulin resistant now much of this is due to food chemicals, We are insulin resistant because many get rich of food chemicals.


Millions are living insulin resistant and do not know it, due to everyday foods filled with chemicals. We have been poisoned by artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrups and other FDA approved food chemicals.

Reverse insulin resistant and you lose the weight and diabetes without drugs 
In addition false 

Sugars are speeding our aging process and is addictive in the form of high fructose corn syrup we are all desperate to lose weight but cannot, we have been poisoned 
Here http://spirithappydiet.blogspot.com/2013/04/fake-sugar-in-diet-used-by-food-makers.html

HUGirl
HUGirl

Great creative idea to use facebook as a tool for obesity.