Study Analyzes Health-Related Facebook Pages, User Engagement

August 12, 2014 in News

Breast cancer and diabetes have the largest presence on Facebook, compared with other common health conditions, according to new research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, MobiHealthNews reports.

Study Details

For the study, researchers from Harvard Medical School, Partners HealthCare’s Center for Connected Health and Stanford University School of Medicine identified the top-20 searched health terms on Google. The terms included:

  • Arthritis;
  • Blood pressure;
  • Breast cancer;
  • Cancer;
  • Diabetes;
  • HIV; and
  • Stroke.

Researchers then searched the terms on Facebook and recorded the top 50 page results for each health term and the total number of Facebook “likes” each page had received. The researchers eliminated any page that was not in English, leaving them with a total of 522 relevant pages.

Study Findings

The researchers found that:

  • Breast cancer and diabetes each had 50 pages;
  • Arthritis, cancer and thyroid each had 49 pages; and
  • HIV and stroke each had 10 pages.

According to the study, the pages received a combined total of about 22 million Facebook “likes,” with:

  • 86.9% of likes for breast cancer- and cancer-related pages;
  • 4.5% of the likes for AIDS and diabetes pages; and
  • 1.1% of the likes for HIV and lupus pages.

The researchers noted that all other Facebook search terms had less than 2% of likes.

The researchers wrote that the searches “provided a large number of irrelevant pages.” They added that “most pages were devoted to marketing/promotion, and relatively few pages were devoted to social support,” which “was especially underrepresented in pages for health conditions for communicable diseases.”

Specifically, the researchers found that:

  • 32.2% of the pages were used for marketing and promotion;
  • 20.7% of the pages were used to provide information and awareness of the health condition;
  • 15.5% were “Wikipedia-type” information pages; and
  • 9.4% were created for general social support.


The researchers suggested that groups increase their public health intervention efforts on Facebook to increases users’ access to relevant information. However, they noted that the likelihood people will actively engage with the pages is low because of stigmas associated with the health conditions (Pai, MobiHealthNews, 8/11).

In addition, they suggested that further research be conducted on the use of social media for health-related information as the medium continues to evolve and grow (JMIR study, 8/4).

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