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Twitter Effective in Spreading Diabetes Information

Twitter is proving to be an effective tool for local health departments in disseminating health information, especially in promoting specific health behaviors.

The latest study, led by Jenine K. Harris, PhD, an assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, focused on diabetes, a disease that may affect an estimated one-third of U.S. adults by 2050. “We focused on diabetes first both because of increasing diabetes rates and also because people living with diabetes tend to use online health-related resources at a fairly high rate, so they are an audience that is already online and on social media,” she explains.

The study was published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention electronic journal Preventing Chronic Disease and focused on how local health departments use social media to educate and inform the public about diabetes.

In a one-month period, Harris’ team collected all diabetes-related tweets posted from every local health department with a Twitter account. The team then compared the health departments that utilized Twitter with those that did not. Of 217 health departments with Twitter accounts, 126 had tweeted about diabetes, with three diabetes tweets being the median since adopting Twitter.

Health departments tweeting about diabetes were in larger cities; had more staff, including public information specialists; and had higher per capita spending than those not tweeting about diabetes. Local health departments tweeting about diabetes were more likely to provide programs in diabetes-related areas such as nutrition, physical activity, and chronic disease.

“Social media reaches a large proportion of the population, including low-income and minority groups that are often hard to reach,” Harris says. “Some research has demonstrated that people are looking online for health information, making social media a potentially very useful way to reach a large audience already seeking health information.”

— Source: Washington University in St. Louis