Can Social Media Help Improve Health?

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Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have become the way that many people connect and share information. But can the use of social media and dedicated eHealth tools be combined to improve health?

During AICR’s annual conference, Deborah Tate, PhD professor in the Department of Health Behavior at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and Carmina G. Valle, PhD, MPH, of UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, co-chaired a session about the use of emerging technologies to help people manage weight and engage in physical activity.

“Social media and other eHealth tools may be key to reaching populations that are young, rural, and racially diverse,” said Dr. Tate. Dr. Valle stressed the idea that digital interventions appear to improve physical activity and fatigue in the short term; however, she also underlined that the use of eHealth technologies is very recent, and that there are several challenges for researchers in understanding the significance and application of the results.

According to Dr. Valle recent reviews indicate there’s emerging evidence that using social networks help support behavior change but more research on maintaining engagement is needed.

Lindsey Horrell, PhD, Julianne Power, MS, and Brooke T. Nezami, PhD also presented on the use of “smart” tools that track activity and weight.

“Just-in-Time Adaptive Interventions (JITAIs) from mobile health apps change physical activity in the 30 minutes after a message,” said Dr. Brooke Nezami, presenting findings from two studies focused on helping weight-loss efforts among new mothers and African-American women. The studies focused on healthy eating, physical activity and self-monitoring by daily weigh-ins, recorded on smart scales connected to researchers’ labs.

Results from these studies found that initial participation was high, but engagement declined over time. However, support from social media groups — co-participants or leaders of the group — did increase participation and log on rates.

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