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FRIDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- Analyzing Facebook users' interests could help public health researchers predict, track and map obesity rates in specific cities, towns and neighborhoods across the United States, a new study says.
This type of information could be used to design targeted online programs meant to reduce obesity rates in specific locations, the researchers said.
They analyzed data about the interests of Facebook users nationally and in New York City and compared that with data from a national health survey and another survey conducted in New York City.
Areas with higher percentages of people with interests linked to a healthy, active lifestyle tend to have lower obesity rates, while areas with greater percentages of people with TV-related interests tend to have higher rates of obesity, according to the study, which was published April 24 in the journal PLoS ONE.
Among the specific findings were the following:
"Online social networks like Facebook represent a new high-value, low-cost data stream for looking at health at a population level," study co-leader John Brownstein, who runs the computational epidemiology group at Boston Children's Hospital's informatics program, said in a hospital news release.
"The tight correlation between Facebook users' interests and obesity data suggest that this kind of social-network analysis could help generate real-time estimates of obesity levels in an area, help target public health campaigns that would promote healthy behavior change and assess the success of those campaigns," he said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.