QUB researchers find social media holds health benefits

  • Social media messaging has a significant positive effect on a range of teenage health behaviours, according to a new study from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).

    The research team found that educating popular teenagers to spread health messages to their peer groups can help other young people to address health issues such as substance abuse, an unhealthy diet and smoking.

    This is usually done through the likes of Facebook posts and sponsored ads.

    Dr Ruth Hunter is from the Centre for Public Health at (QUB) and is lead author on the paper. She explained: “Humans are embedded in social networks and these networks obey very particular rules - mathematical, biological, sociological, and psychological – if we can understand these rules they give us whole new ways of intervening for the better.

    “The aim of our research was to understand how best we can use social networks to encourage us to be healthier.”

    Positive behaviours noted were reaching out to pharmacists to quit smoking and/or cutting back on unhealthy foods.

    Physical activity, diabetes and vaccinations were also positively benefitted by these interventions and led to significant improvements in health outcomes.

    The research is in partnership with the University of Southern California and is published this week in PLOS Medicine. It has been funded by the Northern Ireland Research and Development Office.

    In the study, the research team conducted a review and analysis of 37 studies. The studies were conducted between the years 1996 and 2018, in 11 countries, and included a total of 53,891 participants.

    Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of the Public Health Agency’s (PHA) Research and Development Division, said: “This is important research which will have relevance for the development of health policy in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.”

    Researchers have long conferred about social media’s effects on young people, finding that it is an increasing addiction among millennials and Gen Z users. Earlier in the year, the Information Commissioner’s Office considered proposals to restrict the actions that those under 18 can take on social media platforms.

    There have been multiple initiatives taken recently to try and lessen negative effects of social media upon mental health. For example, Instagram trialled hiding ‘likes’ on the app earlier this year in certain countries. This is due to the social pressure people - especially teenagers - say they are facing, to gain as many ‘likes’ as their peers. Facebook has recently said they are also now considering a test to hide likes on News Feed posts.


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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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