Nav: Home

The social life of health information

June 14, 2016

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (http://www.ucr.edu) -- Most Americans go online for information and support about health-related issues. But what exactly are they looking for? Researchers at the University of California, Riverside shed light on this in a new study that examines how different people in different places use the internet to discuss their health. Titled "Demographic-Based Content Analysis of Online Health-Related Social media," the study was published today (June 13) in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Young people, it turns out, are most likely to discuss Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) on drug review websites like drugs.com, whilst posting about 'parents' and 'homosexuality' in health forums such as WebMD. Users in the Northeastern U.S. talk more about physical disorders, like diabetes and heart conditions, whereas those in the West discuss mental health disorders and addictive behaviors. Users with lower writing levels express more frustration and anger, the study shows.

The research, led by Vagelis Hristidis, a professor of computer science and engineering in UCR's Bourns College of Engineering, is the first large-scale, data-driven study to track the content posted by different demographic groups across the United States, highlighting issues that are important to distinct groups of people.

"Our findings can help healthcare practitioners connect with the right people in the right places to deliver targeted educational campaigns; enable marketers to advertise products to the right audiences; and help researchers examine preventable differences in how people understand diseases and fix these disparities," Hristidis said.

Building on previous research exploring the demographics of health forum users, the current study examined more than 20 million user posts on Twitter, Google Plus, WebMD, drugs.com, and DailyStrength, for hundreds of health-related keywords, medical terms and popular drugs--an undertaking that took 10 computers more than a month to complete.

Demographic information--including gender, age, location and, where possible, ethnicity--was collected or estimated to understand how different people post online about their health. Among the findings in drug review websites and health forums:
  • Women talk more about pregnancy-related issues while men discuss pain drugs, cholesterol and heart problems.

  • Young people discuss ADHD and skin problems in drug review sites and parents and homosexuality in health forums.

  • Older users are active online, and discuss diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol and muscle pain.

  • Users in the Northeast talk more about physical disorders; in the Midwest users discuss weight loss; in the South they post about fibromyalgia; and in the West they discuss mental disorders and addictive behaviors.

  • People with a higher writing level express less anger in their posts.

For traditional social media sites, the researchers selected Twitter and GooglePlus, both of which provide public data. These were the only sites that allowed for data analysis by ethnicity. Key findings were:
  • Men talked more about their reproductive systems (using words like 'prostate' and 'testicular'), tumors, AIDS and health insurance, whereas women talked about headache and emotion.

  • White and Hispanic Twitter users talked about Fibromyalgia; Hispanic users also discussed headaches and sleeplessness; and Asian users discussed heart and kidney diseases.

Twitter and GooglePlus posts were related less to users' own health and more likely to refer to a news story or awareness campaign that was trending on the site, Hristidis said.

"When people post on GooglePlus or Twitter, they are posting from their own accounts and under their own names, so they are less likely to post personal information about their health status," Hristidis said. "A popular approach among web forum users is to create a pseudonym, which enables people to share their own experiences."

Shouq Sadah, a Ph.D. student in Hristidis' research group, conducted this research, along with fellow Ph.D. students Moloud Shahbazi and Matthew Wiley.
-end-


University of California - Riverside

Related Health Articles:

Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
Generous health insurance plans encourage overtreatment, but may not improve health
Offering comprehensive health insurance plans with low deductibles and co-pay in exchange for higher annual premiums seems like a good value for the risk averse, and a profitable product for insurance companies.
The Lancet Planetary Health: Food, climate, greenhouse gas emissions and health
Increasing temperatures, water scarcity, availability of agricultural land, biodiversity loss and climate change threaten to reverse health gains seen over the last century.
With health insurance at risk, community health centers face cut-backs
Repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, combined with a failure to renew critical funding streams, would result in catastrophic funding losses for community health centers-forcing these safety net providers to cut back on services, lay off staff or shut down clinical sites, according to a report published today.
Study clusters health behavior groups to broaden public health interventions
A new study led by a University of Kansas researcher has used national health statistics and identified how to cluster seven health behavior groups based on smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, physician visits and flu vaccination are associated with mortality.
Tailored preventive oral health intervention improves dental health among elderly
A tailored preventive oral health intervention significantly improved the cleanliness of teeth and dentures among elderly home care clients.
Study finds that people are attracted to outward signs of health, not actual health
Findings published in the journal Behavioral Ecology reveal that skin with yellow and red pigments is perceived as more attractive in Caucasian males, but this skin coloring does not necessarily signal actual good health.
In the January Health Affairs: Brazil's primary health care expansion
The January issue of Health Affairs includes a study that explores a much-discussed issue in global health: the role of governance in improving health, which is widely recognized as necessary but is difficult to tie to actual outcomes.
University of Rochester and West Health Collaborate on d.health Summit 2017
In collaboration with West Health, the University of Rochester is hosting the third annual d.health Summit, a forum for health care and technology leaders, entrepreneurs, senior care advocates and policymakers to exchange ideas, create new partnerships, and foster disruptive technological and process innovations to improve the lives of the nation's aging population.
Study links health literacy to higher levels of health insurance coverage
The federal Affordable Care Act is intended to make it easier for individuals to buy health insurance, but are the uninsured equipped to navigate the choices faced in the insurance marketplace?

Related Health Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#514 Arctic Energy (Rebroadcast)
This week we're looking at how alternative energy works in the arctic. We speak to Louie Azzolini and Linda Todd from the Arctic Energy Alliance, a non-profit helping communities reduce their energy usage and transition to more affordable and sustainable forms of energy. And the lessons they're learning along the way can help those of us further south.