Shopping for new friends whose positive influence may help you stay on track meeting your health goals? Take a gander at your new-friend prospects’ interests on Facebook before sealing the new amistad with a pinky swear.
The higher the percentage of people in a city, town or neighborhood that have Facebook interests suggesting active, healthy lifestyles, the lower the area’s obesity rate. Likewise, areas that have a large percentage of people with TV-related interests tend to have higher rates of obesity, finds a new Boston Children’s Hospital survey that compared geo-tagged Facebook user data with health-survey results.
Researchers obtained aggregated Facebook user interest data, as in what users post to their timeline and what they like and share with others on Facebook, from users across the country and in various New York City neighborhoods. They then compared the number of users interested in TV and those interested in healthy activities to the results from two types of phone surveys that recorded geo-tagged data on body mass index, which is considered a reliable measure of obesity.
This showed a link between Facebook interests and obesity rates. For example, obesity rates were 12 percent lower in locations in the U.S., such as Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where the highest percentage of Facebook users noted an interest in activities compared to where the lowest percent of people who showed an interest in activities, such as Kansas City, Mo.
The obesity rate in the location with the highest percentage of users with television-related interests nationally (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) was 3.9 percent higher than the location with the lowest percentage.
“The data show that in places where Facebook users have more activity-related interests, there is a lower prevalence of obesity and overweight,” said Rumi Chunara, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Informatics Program (CHIP), in a statement. “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.”
What type of lifestyle would Your Facebook interests show?