Facebook interests could help predict track and map obesity | News …

Study correlates data on Facebook users’ interests with obesity rates in cities and towns nationally and in New York City neighborhoods

April 24, 2013

Boston, Mass.—The higher the percentage of people in a city, town or neighborhood with Facebook interests suggesting a healthy, active lifestyle, the lower that area’s obesity rate. At the same time, areas with a large percentage of Facebook users with television-related interests tend to have higher rates of obesity. Such are the conclusions of a study by Boston Children’s Hospital researchers comparing geotagged Facebook user data with data from national and New York City-focused health surveys.

Together, the conclusions suggest that knowledge of people’s online interests within geographic areas may help public health researchers predict, track and map obesity rates down to the neighborhood level, while offering an opportunity to design geotargeted online interventions aimed at reducing obesity rates.

The study team, led by Rumi Chunara, PhD, and John Brownstein, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Informatics Program (CHIP), published their findings on April 24 in PLOS ONE.

The amount of data available from social networks like Facebook makes it possible to efficiently carry out research in cohorts of a size that has until now been impractical. It also allows for deeper research into the impact of the societal environment on conditions like obesity, research that can be challenging because of cost, difficulties in gathering sufficient sample sizes and the slow pace of data analysis and reporting using traditional reporting and surveillance systems.

“Online social networks like Facebook represent a new high-value, low-cost data stream for looking at health at a population level,” according to Brownstein, who runs the Computational Epidemiology Group within CHIP. “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.”

To connect the dots between Facebook interests and obesity, Chunara, Brownstein and their colleagues obtained aggregated Facebook user interest data—what users post to their timeline, “like” and share with others on Facebook—from users nationally and just within New York City. They then compared the percentages of users interested in healthy activities or television with data from two telephone-based health surveys: the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System-Selected Metropolitan/Micropolitan Area Risk Trends (BRFSS-SMART), and New York City’s EpiQuery Community Health Survey (CHS). Both surveys record geotagged data on body mass index, a reliable measure of obesity.

The comparison revealed close geographic relationships between Facebook interests and obesity rates. For instance, the BRFSS-SMART obesity rates were 12 percent lower in the location in the United States where the highest percentage of Facebook users expressing activity-related interests (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) compared that in the location with the lowest percentage (Kansas City, Mo.-Kan.). Similarly, the obesity rate in the location with the highest percentage of users with television-related interests nationally (Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C.) was 3.9 percent higher than the location with the lowest percentage (Eugene-Springfield, Ore.).

The same correlation was reflected in the New York City neighborhood data as well, showing that the approach can scale from national- to local-level data. The CHS-reported obesity rate on Coney Island, which had the highest percentage of activity-related interests in the city, was 7.2 percent lower than Southwest Queens, the neighborhood with the lowest percentage. At the same time, the obesity rate in Northeast Bronx, the neighborhood with the highest percentage of television-related interests, was 27.5 percent higher than that in the neighborhood with the lowest percentage (Greenpoint). 


Relating proportion of activity-related “likes”
on Facebook with obesity rates


Region with lowest percentage

Region with highest percentage

? obesity rate between lowest and highest


Kansas City, Mo.-Kan. (1.3%)

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (25.4%)



Southwest Queens (7.6%)

Coney Island




Relating proportion of television-related “likes”
on Facebook with obesity rates


Region with lowest percentage

Region with highest percentage

? obesity rate between lowest and highest


Eugene-Springfield, Ore. (50.3%)

Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C. (76%)



Greenpoint (64%)

Northeast Bronx (70.6%)


 “The data show that in places where Facebook users have more activity-related interests, there is a lower prevalence of obesity and overweight,” said Chunara, an instructor in Brownstein’s group. “They reveal how social media data can augment public health surveillance by giving public health researchers access to population-level information that they can’t otherwise get.”

The study also bolsters the case for using social media as a means of delivering targeted interventions aimed at reducing rates of obesity and other chronic diseases, as applicable.

The study was supported by the National Library of Medicine (grants G08LM009776, and R01LM010812) and Google.org.

Keri Stedman

Boston Children’s Hospital is home to the world’s largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 1,100 scientists, including nine members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and 11 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Boston Children’s research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Boston Children’s today is a 395-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Boston Children’s also is a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. For more information about research and clinical innovation at Boston Children’s, visit: http://vectorblog.org/.

DOH: City Obesity Rate Up 25 Percent In 12 Years

New statistics reveal that the city’s obesity rate has risen by 25 percent in the past 12 years.

According to the city Health Department, one in five New Yorkers was considered obese when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002, but now, one in four New Yorkers is considered obese.

Those numbers may improve, though. Despite Bloomberg’s ban on sugary drinks being shut down, the statistics say the percentage of adults who drink one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day dropped to 28 percent last year from 36 percent in 2007.

“I think those numbers bare it out,” Bloomberg said. “This is not a problem that’s going to go away. Diseases from overweight will kill more people in New York City this year than smoking.”

The Department of Health says that adult obesity has been on the rise for 30 years, but childhood obesity is decreasing in the city because of their efforts to improve access to healthy food and increase opportunities for physical activity.

Obesity Rate In NYC Up 25% Under Nanny Bloomberg | The Lonely …


Well, isn’t this weird? The obesity rate in New York City has skyrocketed since Nanny Bloomberg took control of the city.

Reduce the obesity rate in New York City? Fat chance!

More New Yorkers than ever are living large, despite Nanny Bloomberg’s war on sugary drinks and fast foods, statistics obtained by The Post reveal.

The city’s obesity rate among adults has skyrocketed 25 percent since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, city Health Department figures show.

That year, nearly one in five New Yorkers was considered obese. Now almost one in four is.

The figures are surprising given Gotham’s residents are doing better according to other health indicators. (Read More)

Maybe all of the former smokers are compensating by overeating. Or maybe people now assume everything they eat is healthy because of Nanny Bloomberg’s efforts. Who knows?

Obesity's Death Toll May Be Much Higher Than Thought – WebMD

Obesity’s Death Toll May Be Higher Than Thought

Study finds higher rates of chronic disease,

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) — Researchers have vastly underestimated the number of deaths caused by obesity in the United States, a new report reveals.

Obesity accounts for 18 percent of deaths among black and white Americans between the ages of 40 and 85, according to a study published online Aug. 15 in the American Journal of Public Health. Previous estimates had placed obesity-related deaths at only 5 percent of all U.S. mortalities.

“This was more than a tripling of the previous estimate,” said study author Ryan Masters, who conducted the research as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation scholar at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City. “Obesity has dramatically worse health consequences than some recent reports have led us to believe.”

Earlier estimates erred by overlooking generational differences in the way the obesity epidemic has affected Americans, Masters said.

Because younger generations have been exposed longer to risk factors for obesity, they are at even greater risk of becoming overweight or obese and suffering all the health problems that accompany the extra pounds, the researchers warned.

“A 5-year-old growing up today is living in an environment where obesity is much more the norm than was the case for a 5-year-old a generation or two ago. Drink sizes are bigger, clothes are bigger and greater numbers of a child’s peers are obese,” study co-author Bruce Link, a professor of epidemiology and sociomedical sciences at Columbia, said in a statement. “And once someone is obese, it is very difficult to undo. So, it stands to reason that we won’t see the worst of the epidemic until the current generation of children grows old.”

The researchers investigated this possibility by breaking the population down into “cohorts,” or generations, and studying the effect of obesity on deaths for those age groups.

Using these generational groups, they analyzed 19 years’ worth of annual U.S. National Health Interview Surveys from 1986 through 2004 and compared those findings to individual mortality records from the National Death Index. They focused on ages 40 to 85 to exclude deaths caused by accidents, homicides and congenital conditions, the leading causes of mortality for younger people.

“Successive cohorts are living in this new environment and are at greater risk of obesity at earlier times in their lives,” Masters said. “Each specific cohort looks like a wave that’s grown bigger than the cohort that has come before it.”

For example, Masters and his colleagues noted obesity’s increasing effect on mortality in white men who died between the ages of 65 and 70 in the years 1986 to 2006.

Obesity accounted for about 3.5 percent of deaths for those born between 1915 and 1919, but it accounted for about 5 percent of deaths for those born 10 years later. Obesity killed off around 7 percent of those born another 10 years later.

Diabetes Is at an All-Time High in NYC

This news will definitely depress you. Over the last two decades, the adult diabetes rate in New York City has almost doubled. The Department of Health collected data which showed that some 650,000 adults had diabetes in 2011. Back in 1993, the number was 200,000 less. On top of that, they also suspect that there are 230,000 more adults who are unaware that they have diabetes. 

The numbers from the past ten years are even more staggering. Over 10 percent of adults in New York City currently report having diabetes, whereas 4.2 percent of residents reported having it in 2003. It’s gotten to the point that city officials are referring to it as an epidemic. 

Would the soda ban have helped?

[via Gothamist]


Tags: new-york, diabetes

American Obesity Rates Have Risen, and Sea Level Will Do the Same

If we don’t do anything, we will all be overweight and floating in water, pecked at by seagulls who’ve leveraged the new conditions to wrestle control of most major American cities from our decaying, decrepit species—or at least that’s the takeaway from two things on the Internet today.

Over at The Atlantic, James Hamblin put together this graphic of the country’s obesity rates as they progressed—maybe regressed is the better word?—from 1990 to 2010. As you can see in the key, the darker-blue and then redder things get, the more obese an area has become.

So, plummeting health! But also: rising tides! A recent New York Times post visualizes various sea-level-rise rates—from five to 15 to 25 feet—with two-dimensional maps. Unless widespread changes are made, the takeaway here is that large portions of Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C., will be under water in 100 to 300 years. Nickolay Lamm, at Storagefront.com, created some photographs that show what things will look like once the ocean overtakes us. They’re fascinating. Max Read at Gawker GIF’d together (sorry) the photos Lamm made for the D.C. area. You can see his creation below.

Back in September, the BBC asked: “Why are there so many seagulls in cities?

You’re welcome, BBC.

Proposed Ban on Using Food Stamps for Soda in NYC

Proposed Ban on Using Food Stamps for Soda in NYC

The ruling was issued by the United States Department of Agriculture. Mayor Bloomberg and New York City health commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley have issued criticisms over the decision.

Dr. Farley expressed that he was “very upset” with the decision, and said that it “really calls into question how serious the U.S.D.A. is about addressing the nation’s most serious nutritional problem.”

The proposal was offered last October as a two-year experiment which will determine whether the ban will help reduce obesity among people who use food stamps to buy groceries. Dr. Farley shared further that an estimated 57 percent of adults in New York City are overweight, while 40 percent of children in its public schools are obese.

Obesity, in turn, was found to be more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods. Limiting the consumption of such sugary drinks as sodas among this group of people may potentially reverse this trend.

In a statement, Mayor Bloomber shared: “We think our innovative pilot would have done more to protect people from the crippling effects of preventable illnesses like diabetes and obesity than anything else being proposed elsewhere in this country — and at little or no cost to taxpayers… We’re disappointed that the federal government didn’t agree, and sorry that families and children may suffer from their unwillingness to explore our proposal. New York City will continue to pursue new and unconventional ways to combat the health problems that hurt New Yorkers and Americans from coast to coast.”