AU MA Social Media

A class blog about social media.

Social Media for Public Health?

Posted by sarahkana10 on August 6, 2014


Last semester, I wrote my thesis on strategic communication for public health, particularly in communities that have lower health literacy levels. Having had the opportunity to meet with some members of this target population, most fondly, those at So Others Might Eat, I am extremely interesting in what can be done to more easily communicate with them.

Admittedly, I was surprised at how social media savvy these homeless individuals are; all of them said that they typically get their news from social media.  Additionally, one of the most prominent health issues with this this group and others who are less health literate, is a lack of physical activity.

The most recent article I could find on social media for public health was the following: “Social media improving health?

The article discusses how, using previously published data on social networks and other online environments that promote physical activity, Penn State researchers are figuring out how to use these platforms to influence people to get up from their computer monitors, tablets and smartphones in order to do something for their physical well-being… their proposed campaign is called Project WalkLink.

Exert from the article:

“Although social media can bring attention to the important issue of physical inactivity, many people are already aware that they are not sufficiently active,” Rovniak said. “It is a challenge for many people to sustain an active lifestyle given that there are more prompts for sedentary behaviors than for active ones. Therefore, our primary purpose was to study if helping people to build a network of physical activity partners could help sustain more regular physical activity.”

“The question becomes, ‘What can we manipulate in our physical or virtual environments to change what people say or do to encourage healthy behavior?’” she added.

 In order to encourage people to be more active and healthy, the research team came up with three ways to do so for a group of sedentary adults. Those being:

1) Offered only tips on how to be more physically active

2) Reward for physical activity (walking)

3) Offered the chance to “mingle” with others on social networking sites to discuss their new physical activities

“The intended takeaway from Project WalkLink will be that scientists will better understand what’s effective for promoting exercise on social media platforms, and how those methods compare to more conventional approaches.”

To recap, the researchers in this project have a random group of 300 relatively sedentary adults that they are targeting; and those individuals are selecting which option would be most likely to encourage them to be more active (they see these options on their social media networking sites). Once that is determined, scientists and health organizations can use the method that best fits with their target audience to reach out to them in order to encourage them to be more physically active and healthy.

You can check back with Penn State’s College of Medicine for updates.

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