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Surprising Science

How Social Media Affect Your Health

By better understanding how social media influence people’s decisions, health researchers are hoping to target ‘top influencers’ who can encourage their friends to live healthier lives.

What’s the Latest Development?

Health researchers are breaking exciting ground by better understanding how health habits are carried across social networks like Facebook. One study that tracked the spread of seasonal flu through a group of Harvard students found that their online friends were infected within a predictable amount of time (14-46 days). This has given researchers hope that once an illness has been identified in an online social group, preventative measures can be taken to stop the disease from spreading.

What’s the Big Idea?

Researchers believe online social networks function similarly to real social networks, influencing the decisions we make and how healthy our lives are. Were health professionals able to spread messages through online communities by targeting ‘top influencers’ (those who have the most say in the their social network), the health of entire groups of people (and their friends, and their friends…) could be changed for the better. According to research, happiness, divorce, obesity, smoking cessation, and more spread via networks.

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