Healthy connections: Using social media for health concerns helps patients find success, stay motivated

July 26, 2012, Kansas State University

(Medical Xpress) -- Social media websites are useful in staying in touch with friends and family, but one Kansas State University researcher believes they also may keep you healthy.

Linda Yarrow, assistant professor of and a registered and licensed dietitian, said an increasing number of individuals seeking are turning to websites like to get support and advice in addition to their professional medical care. When used correctly, websites may help patients stay motivated and accountable, she said.

"The aspect of a support system is so important," Yarrow said. "That's why Weight Watchers works. Many people in the Weight Watchers program have probably heard these instructions for years, but it's being in a support group that works for them. That's what social media provides."

Out of the 74 percent of adults who use the Internet, Yarrow said 80 percent have looked for health information online. Thirty-four percent of adult Internet users have read blogs or used social media to learn more about a medical issue or find support.

While women were slightly more likely than men to use social media for health information, Yarrow said more men are comfortable with it because they don't have to stop what they're doing to make an appointment and get information.

"Women are typically more health conscious, but it's taking off and growing with both genders," Yarrow said. "People are more willing today to online than ever before. This is valuable; they're finding support."

The majority of individuals seeking online information or support are those with weight loss concerns. Yarrow said this form of assistance is especially appealing to this group since typically does not cover care alone and use of social media is generally free.

Yarrow, who also works as a registered dietitian in Clay Center, Kan., said these typically come in the form of Facebook page, a series of YouTube videos or blogs. While nothing can replace the care of a professional provider, Yarrow said online support groups can provide connections to others who are dealing with the same issues.

"On Facebook, a woman recently posted that she was ready to quit her walking program after one week," Yarrow said. "Within 10 minutes, she had been invited to other support groups, had an invitation for a walking buddy and an invitation to join a water aerobics class. It's instant support."

Yarrow added that if this woman had only been involved in a program that physically met once a week, she may have had to wait six days and have given up.

Using social media for health-related support also provides opportunities for accountability, Yarrow said. Some health sites, such as MyFitnessPal, allow users to record their daily food intake and share it with friends. Yarrow said having others monitor progress can lead to success in accomplishing health or fitness goals.

"Slowly, this is going to help individuals take better care of their health," Yarrow said. "It's a slow process, but it provides accountability."

Yarrow emphasized the importance of seeing a health care professional in conjunction with groups, especially for critical illnesses. Users must also be aware of misinformation, especially in consumer-run groups.

"It's possible to follow the advice of someone on Facebook and end up in the hospital," she said. "But I've noticed that the users are savvy. They bring up research articles to each other, and even if they're not always valid, at least they're pointing something out to each other. As professionals, we have to decide how to guide the information and help prevent inaccuracy, but we can't prevent it from coming in."

She added that more professionals are seeing the benefits of online patient care.

"It's an inexpensive way to reach a lot of people at one time," Yarrow said. "It's especially great for entrepreneurs who want to grow their business. It's a hot topic."

Explore further: Patients trust doctors but consult the Internet

Related Stories

Patients trust doctors but consult the Internet

July 6, 2012
Patients look up their illnesses online to become better informed and prepared to play an active role in their care — not because they mistrust their doctors, a new University of California, Davis, study suggests.

Recommended for you

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.