Social Media Channels Effect User Health


  • By David Burda
  • June 19, 2017
Social Media Channels Effect User Health

Some things are better for you than others. It turns out that timeless adage applies to social media and the mental—and perhaps physical health—of users. In fact, new research shows that some social media channels can make users healthier while others can make users sick.

The findings offer important lessons to health care organizations like hospitals and health plans that are using social media channels to distribute prevention and wellness content to patients and enrollees. Not all social media channels are equal when it comes to engaging users in their own health.

A London-based public health advocacy group called the Royal Society for Public Health surveyed about 1,500 teens and young adults ages 14 to 24 on their use of five social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube.

The RSPH asked them how each platform affected their health and wellbeing in a positive or negative manner.

Specifically, the RSPH asked the participants to assign a score on a five-point scale (-2 through +2) to each of 14 factors. A score of -2 meant a lot worse, 0 meant no effect, and +2 meant a lot better. The factors were: 

  1. Awareness and understanding of other people’s health experiences
  2. Access to expert health information you know you can trust
  3. Emotional support (empathy and compassion from family and friends)
  4. Anxiety (feelings of worry, nervousness or unease)
  5. Depression (feeling extremely low and unhappy)
  6. Loneliness (feelings of being all on your own)
  7. Sleep (quality and amount of sleep)
  8. Self-expression (the expression of your feelings, thoughts or ideas)
  9. Self-identity (ability to define who you are)
  10. Body image (how you feel about how you look)
  11. Real world relationships (maintaining relationships with other people)
  12. Community building (feeling part of a community of like-minded people)
  13. Bullying (threatening or abusive behavior towards you)
  14. Fear of missing out ( feeling you need to stay connected because you are worried things could be happening without you)

The only social media platform of the five with a net positive score on all 14 criteria was YouTube. Users gave the video channel high marks for awareness, community-building and access. The social platform with the lowest net negative score was Instagram. Users gave the photo-sharing channel low marks for sleep, body image and anxiety. Ranked ahead of Instagram also with net negative scores were Twitter (second), Facebook (third) and Snapchat (fourth).

The RSPH reported the survey findings in its report #StatusOfMind: Social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. 

The results suggest that B2C health care content marketers should emphasis video over other social media formats to disseminate health content to their audience. Watching a diabetic patient prepare a nutrition meal or take his or her medication properly may be more effective in promoting healthy behaviors than reading a recipe or the directions on a pill bottle.

A second study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, was done on the mental and physical effects of using Facebook. The study was called, "Association of Facebook Use With Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study." Researchers noted their thoughts on the findings in the Harvard Business Review, though they admittedly give away the ending with the headline, “A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel.”

The researchers studied the connection between Facebook use by about 5,200 people and four health variables: self-reported physician health, self-reported mental health, self-reported life satisfaction and body mass index. “Our results showed that overall, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with well-being,” the researchers concluded.

The results give a new meaning to the phrase “killer content” used by many content marketing agencies. The lesson for B2C healthcare content marketers from the second study is two-fold. First, if Facebook use leads to poor health, then Facebook content should be designed to activate users to take steps to improve their mental and physical health. The content must be more than patient education. It must motivate users to get off their computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones and engage in a behavior that improves health and well-being. Second, use YouTube to distribute your content.


About David Burda

Dave is the chief healthcare subject matter expert for MSP. He collaborates with editorial teams to conceive and create content for leading healthcare industry organizations and corporations. He’s a recognized healthcare industry figure, journalist, thought leader and public speaker.

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