STUDY: Can Facebook Likes Show How Fit Or Obese You Are?

By Justin Lafferty 

If you tend to like exercise– and activity-based Facebook pages, are you in shape? Conversely, do all of those likes of TV shows paint the picture of someone more obese? That’s what some researchers from Harvard University, Boston Children’s Hospital, and San Diego State University wanted to figure out. They took geographic data of Facebook likes, comparing them to obesity levels, finding that areas where more people liked TV shows on Facebook also tended to be areas with higher obesity rates.

The study discovered that many more people liked Facebook pages of TV shows than any fitness-related activities. The city with the highest concentration of activity likes was Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The city with the highest concentration of television-related Facebook likes was Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Researchers also isolated New York, finding that Coney Island had the highest concentration of Facebook fans of activities, while northeast Bronx Facebook users were most concerned with TV shows.

When the researchers combined the Facebook data with figures on obesity, it was somewhat startling to see that the areas that had liked more TV show pages tended to be more obese, while those that liked more activity pages were more on the fit side.

Researchers summarized the study, showing how it could help physicians in the future:

Here we present online social networks as a new mechanism for public health surveillance of real-world health outcomes. Accessibility of online data also presents the opportunity to use data-mining approaches to understand how aspects of the online environment correspond best to different health outcomes. Conversely, because results here suggest the possibility that both positive and negative health outcomes (higher or lower prevalence of obesity) can be related to online social network interests, the online social environment could be harnessed for intelligently targeted health interventions, such as through online and mobile messaging.

Readers: Do you feel these data are accurate?