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25 September 2014

Social Network-Based Health Interventions - State-of-the-Science

Keywords: food, health, internet, intervention, smoking, ERC, Literature review, diet, eating behavior, food intake,

Social network sites offer plenty of possibilities for the delivery of health campaigns. A review of research published in the Journal of Medicine and Internet Research investigated the effectiveness of social network-based health interventions. It turns out that social network health interventions can be effective in improving health behaviors. But these improvements depend on the type of social network site as well as the targeted health behavior. 

Take aways

  • Social network sites can improve health behaviors.
  • Popular social network sites such as Facebook are very suitable for interventions focusing on physical activity and weight loss.
  • The effect of social network health interventions can be enhanced by asking participants to set goals, providing them with social support, and/ or increasing their food knowledge.
  • Social network interventions are less suitable for improving eating behaviors and quality of life.
  • Eventually, all interventions become boring. It is crucial for social network health intervention developers to continue to stimulate the participants.

Study information

  • The question?

    Do social network-based interventions improve health behaviors?

  • Who?

    A review of 10 scientific studies focusing on social network-based health interventions that targeted adult and children’s smoking and drinking behavior, food intake, exercising, and inactive behavior.

  • How?

    The researchers collected studies from established digital literature databases, using search terms such as “social media”, “healthy eating”, “alcohol”, and “exercise”. The 10 social network health interventions that fit the inclusion criteria (see "what") were analyzed on their effectiveness.

Facts and findings

  • 9 of the 10 social network-based health interventions improved some aspect of health behavior. But the effectiveness of the intervention depended on the type of social network site and health behavior:
    • Physical activity intervention was most effective via Facebook.
    • Facebook in combination with goal setting was most effective for weight loss interventions.
    • Interventions focusing on eating behavior and quality of life were less effective via popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Social support and health knowledge enhanced the effect of the social network-based health interventions.
  • Participants’ engagement decreased during all health interventions.
  • But participants in social network-based health interventions had a higher engagement compared to classical interventions.
  • Greater use of the social network intervention was associated with greater weight loss
  • Communicating actively with others on social networking sites increased weight loss.
  • Fun fact: Most of the participants (83%) in social network-based health interventions were female.