UConn professors research social media’s role in health sharing

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The study “Count Your Calories and Share Them: Health Benefits of sharing mHealth Information on Social Networking Sites,” published in “Health Communication,” found that receiving encouragement and motivation are both crucial in increasing overall health, which is what many exercise-tracking apps can provide. (Getty Images)

The study “Count Your Calories and Share Them: Health Benefits of sharing mHealth Information on Social Networking Sites,” published in “Health Communication,” found that receiving encouragement and motivation are both crucial in increasing overall health, which is what many exercise-tracking apps can provide. (Getty Images)

A study performed by University of Connecticut researchers found that mobile exercise-tracking apps can be beneficial to overall health.

The study “Count Your Calories and Share Them: Health Benefits of sharing mHealth Information on Social Networking Sites,” published in “Health Communication,” found that receiving encouragement and motivation are both crucial in increasing overall health, which is what many exercise-tracking apps can provide.

The study was led by Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, assistant professor of Communication and John Christensen, associate professor of Communication, as well as Penn State University professor Andrew High.

“If users share tracked health information and receive supportive comments, particularly [social] network support, they can improve their health outcomes,” researchers said in an interview with UConn Today.

According to their research, while the positive effects of mHealth (mobile health) have been inconsistent overall, they have seen consistency in certain areas of interaction, specifically positive feedback.

“We saw that sharing had these positive relationships between health outcomes for certain types of support, but that also depended on the type of feedback that people got on social media sites,” Oeldorf-Hirsch said in an interview with UConn Today.

Oeldorf-Hirsch said just sharing fitness progress is not enough to improve results. The positive affirmation and feedback people get contribute to the success of consumers, building upon their accomplishments.

This affirmation is similarly beneficial for less active consumers. Their research suggests that subjects currently engaged in less healthy behaviors can be motivated by sharing their tracked health date. Consequently, their healthy behavior is shown to increase.

In an interview with UConn 360 podcast, Oeldorf-Hirsch says that moving forward, she is interested in investigating different types of interventions, programs that purposefully motivate people to improve their lifestyle, in terms of healthy habits.

“There’s not a lot of other infrastructure around [mHealth] in terms of the support that they could give,” Oeldorf-Hirsch said. “We’re very interested in what types of technological devices or apps encourage that support…and then we can build interventions that use those features.”


Grace Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at grace.burns@uconn.edu.

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