HealthDay News — Online social interests can predict the prevalence of obesity in a given geographical area,  researchers have found.

Online social networks offer a new form of observational data that describe the social environment. These networks engage millions of unique users monthly,” Rumi Chunara, PhD, of Harvard Medical School in Boston and colleagues, reported in PLOS ONE.

To examine whether a correlation exists between user interests on Facebook, and obesity prevalence, they examined activity and sedentary-related interest categories on Facebook user profiles and obesity prevalence for metropolitan areas across the United States and withing neighborhoods in New York City. 

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The proportions of obese and/or overweight populations in these areas were identified from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance and New York City EpiQuery systems.

Overall, there was more television interest than activity-related interests at both the metropolitan and micropolitan level across the USA and neighborhood level within NYC, the researchers found.

Nationally, the proportion of users with activity-related interests by metropolitan ranged from 0.013 in areas of Missouri to 0.254 in areas of Idaho, whereas those with interest in television ranged from 0.503 in areas of Oregon to 0.760 in areas of South Carolina.

In New York City, the proportion of users with activity-related interests ranged from 0.076 in Southwest Queens to 0.112 in Coney Island, and interest in television ranged from 0.640 in Greenpoint to 0.706 in Northeast Bronx.

The researchers found that having a higher proportion of the population with activity-related interests on Facebook correlated with a significantly lower predicted prevalence of obesity and/or overweight (12% across metros and 7.2 % across neighborhoods).

Having a greater proportion with an interest in television correlated with a higher prevalence of obesity and/or overweight (3.9% for metros and 27.5% for neighborhoods).

“Activity-related interests across the U.S.A. and sedentary-related interests across N.Y.C. were significantly associated with obesity prevalence,” the researchers wrote. “Further research is needed to understand how the online social environment relates to health outcomes and how it can be used to identify or target interventions.”


  1. Chunara R et al. PLOS ONE. 2013; 8(4): e61373.