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/.

The whys of rising obesity | Harvard Gazette

Harvard nutrition expert Walter Willett compared the marketing of junk food to kids with an earlier era’s child labor practices, saying that young people have been “exploited” by both systems. He said such food marketing is an important factor in America’s obesity epidemic.

“Children are being exploited, same as sweatshops,” Willett said. “This is a natural consequence of a capitalist food supply.”

Willett, speaking today at a Forum at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), said that much of the blame for the obesity epidemic should go to food industry researchers who have done their jobs all too well. Under pressure from the ever-competitive food industry, the researchers perfected not just the preferred tastes of prepared foods, but also their packaging and advertising.

Marketing strategies aimed at children influence a population this is not only vulnerable to such messages, but is also establishing long-lasting dietary habits.

Panelists on the forum webcast included Willett, who chairs the HSPH’s Nutrition Department; Michael Rich, an associate professor at HSPH and Harvard Medical School (HMS) and director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston; Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor of epidemiology at HSPH and associate professor of medicine; and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, now a professor at the University of California at San Francisco. The hour-long panel, called “Why We Overeat: The Toxic Food Environment and Obesity,” took place before a small studio audience in the Kresge Building and drew Internet viewers from as far away as Australia.

The discussion cast a strong light on America’s children, 17 percent of whom are obese and 5 percent of whom are in a new category called “severely obese,” according to panel moderator Meredith Melnick of the Huffington Post, which co-sponsored the event.

While food industry marketing plays an important role in the obesity epidemic, panelists described several other important factors that are increasingly causing experts to view the epidemic not as a collective failure of personal willpower but as the offshoot of an unhealthy food environment. Among the concerns are changing eating habits, where people no longer eat just at mealtimes, and the tendency to eat while watching television.

Television is a factor in the fattening of America, the panelists said, displaying what public health officials call a “dose-response” relationship with obesity — meaning the more television we watch, the fatter we get. The amount of time children spend interacting with screens on televisions, computers, cellphones, and other devices has risen dramatically, Rich said, to more than seven hours a day. But it is television time — with focused attention, exposure to advertising, and “mindless eating” — that has proven a key obesity factor, Rich said.

Although sedentary lifestyles often share part of the blame for the epidemic, Mozaffarian said that is largely unwarranted. People today, he said, are no less active than they were in the 1970s, before the epidemic began to take hold. Rather, he said, the blame lies squarely on changes to the American diet since the early 1980s.

In that time, portion sizes have increased, and consumption of sugary drinks has soared. One important factor in the changes, he said, was well-intended. The anti-fat messages of the ’80s drove many people concerned about their health to avoid fat in foods, and instead to increase their carbohydrate intake. The problem, Mozaffarian said, was that much of those carbohydrates were in the form of highly processed starches that in the body behave in much the same way as sugar.

Willett and Mozaffarian rejected the idea that genetics plays a role in the epidemic. Though some experts have pointed to the body’s ability to hold onto calories as an ancient defense against famine, the two pointed out that the current crisis is a new development, one largely not suffered in our grandparents and great-grandparents’ time, when obesity rates were a third what they are today. Genes, they said, don’t change that quickly.

Panelists disagreed about the significance of America’s high-sugar diet, with Kessler saying that sugar combines with too much salt and fat in irresistible products that amount to a food “carnival.” Mozaffarian, however, said the focus on any particular component of food can be misleading. Instead, he said, people should focus on eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains.

“It’s really the kinds of food that’s important,” Mozaffarain said. “We focus a lot on what not to eat; we need to focus on what’s good to eat.”

Willett suggested something akin to the Mediterranean diet, which Mozaffarian pointed out has more fat in it than the typical American diet. Without some sort of regulation to force a change, however, Willett was pessimistic that a solution is near.

“If we have no restraints, the problem isn’t going away. It’s only going to get worse,” Willett said.

Android Honeycomb 3.1 is the end of civilisation

Google IO is hitting the trends list this morning due to a press release regarding the latest version of Android Honeycomb 3.1; a tablet configured operating system which now offers additional hosting facilities and resizeable widgets amongst other things.

I love a bit of technology me, and I like the fact that manufacturers are steering the market towards tablets for a number of reasons, but I do have my reservations about the true value of them and their impact on our health.

For me personally they’re a kind of ‘best of both worlds’ device as I can write, email, web browse, photo edit, skype and whatever else I need for work, and at the end of the working day I can unplug the keyboard, kick back and watch a movie with complete ease and convenience.

That’s all great, but what does bother me are things like the forthcoming Google TV application which Android Honeycomb 3.1 already has support for because it means that the tablet market is aiming itself squarely as an entertainment device more than anything else.


So here it is, my crazier than crazy hypothesis. If tablets are set to take the lion share of the market and give us that flexibility and lightweight convenience with mobile broadband, streaming television, widgets such as Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, et al, then surely it’s only a matter of time before we see tablet wielding yuppies strolling about the streets watching their favourite TV shows on-demand whilst forcing other pedestrians into sidewalk slaloms as they submerge themsleves into complete obliviousness.


Padded buildings and street furnishings will swiftly follow the launch of Android Honeycomb 3.1 and Google TV

I’ve already witnessed as much with people watching films on their mobile phones while chaotically ambling down the street with no consideration for other human traffic whatsoever.

In what suddenly became the norm during the 80‘s to have a TV in every room we started to see the faintest traces of social disintegration; family life became slightly more fractured as we were given the opportunity to watch different channels in different rooms at the same time and the quality of the programming deteriorated ever-so-slowly with the introduction of cable and satellite channels.

The entertainment market exploded during the 90‘s with Sky Sports coverage and the introduction of mass produced video game consoles which superceded their early ancestors with more powerful processors, superior graphics, better sound, a wider variety of titles and genres to choose from, and of course, the piece de resistance – online gaming.

While soap operas captivated the adult audience by reflecting our dowdy lives on the now flat screen boxes, teenagers and ageing Space Invaders fanboys (and girls) got to grips with l33t g4m3z and button mashing as they bid to be the best online gamer with the best powers and the best slotted toons with the best outfit, abusing each other via in-game chat consoles while bastardising the English language through text and l33t speak, leaving us with a nation of soap obsessed, illiterate zombies whose only purpose is to feed the flickery television machine as it feeds them in turn while living their dull existences through fictional characters with limited parameters and repetitive scenarios.

Okay, enough social entertainment history (not that it’s social), what the hell has this got to do with Android Honeycomb 3.1 you ask?

Simply put, Android Honeycomb 3.1 and the tablets it ‘brings life to’ are the next extension of a program which is slowly isolating virtually every human being in the western hemisphere. With entertaiment constantly at our finger tips we run the risk of becoming a totally dysfunctional race incapable of performing our daily duties to any significant degree of acceptability. Gamers get angrier over their ‘reputation’ as a l33t player, soaps make us even less satisfied with our lives in general and adverts and credit companies make us believe we can have what we want whenever we want it – and these tablets and latest mobile phones bring it all right to our finger tips.

You have been brainwashed into believing you need television and gadgets to entertain you, through which the conditioning perpetuates

Am I being negative? In some people’s eyes perhaps I am, but in truth I’m being realistic. For confirmation of that fact, look around you at the impact gaming and TV has on our lives. Gamers are spending upwards of six hours per day (more than 10 in many cases) glued to a screen getting angrier and more irritable by the minute as they try to obtain objects which don’t actually exist and have no value in the real world and certainly won’t help them get a job when they need it to fund their gaming addiction which will in turn lose them that job because the addiction is too powerful, while soap watchers come home from a boring job to watch boring characters live boring lives in a boring fictional place, then go to work the next day and boringly discuss the boring soap and the boring plot which somehow gives their life meaning.

With the latest technology and operating systems like Android Honeycomb 3.1 and Google TV allowing us to take these distractions everywhere we go, the future doesn’t actually look that bright for the human race.

Welcome to Planet Dickhead:

Please feel free to argue with me, or agree vehemently thus making interweb tribes by leaving a comment.

Read about deaths caused by excessive gaming; Gamestring make World of Warcraft mobile; zombies becoming real and the superbug which could create them (sort of).

images: slashgear.com, stevewebel.com, thepeoplesvoice.org


Watching television ups the risk of heart problems

A recently conducted study has revealed that watching television ups the risk of heart ailments. According to www.sify.com, people who watch television for four hours at a stretch everyday are at 28 percent increased risk of heart problems. The study has claimed that with every passing hour of watching television, the risk of heart ailments increases by 7 percent.

The study was conducted by scientists at the Medical Research Council. It also established that minor lifestyle changes can make a significant difference in the maintenance and functioning of the heart.

As reported by www.blog.taragana.com, the team of researchers carried out the study on about 13,197 people including healthy women and men in their middle age phase.

It was recorded in the study that out of these participants, 373 people died out of heart ailments. The scientists noted that the total time spent by these participants was a major indicator of increasing the odds of dying from heart problems.

“Our bodies are not designed to sit for long periods and we should be aware that, as we put in the TV hours watching the World Cup, our risk of heart disease is probably increasing” warned Dr Katrien Wijndaele, co-author of the study.

Celebrities who have heart problems include Jennie GarthRobin WilliamsBill Clinton and Barbara Walters.

Images: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1187553, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/220620

Increased television viewing leads to negative impacts on kids

A recently conducted study has revealed that increased exposure of television among children mainly in the age group of two to five years may lead to several negative consequences. According to www.sciencedaily.com, early exposure of television has been found to be responsible for poor academic performance and unhealthy routinely habits among children. The research study was conducted by a group of researchers from the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center, the Université de Montréal and the University of Michigan.

During the study, researchers investigated around 1,314 children and their parents and teachers. Parents were questioned about the time their kids devoted to TV viewing on daily basis while their teachers were told to give a detailed academic report of the children. The body mass index, health habits and the psychological profile of these kids were also checked.

As per www.medicalnewstoday.com, the findings of the study revealed that increased television viewing leads to seven percent fall in the classroom performance, ten percent rise in the rate of being bullied by peers, nine percent rise in the physical activity and five percent increase in the body mass index.

“Our findings make a compelling public health argument against excessive TV viewing in early childhood and for parents to heed guidelines on TV exposure from the American Academy of Pediatrics.” concluded Dr. Linda S. Pagani.

This study suggests excessive TV watching can lead to an increased BMI. Celebrities who have battled weight issues include Kirstie AlleyOprah Winfrey and Sharon Osbourne.

Images: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1089124, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1187553,