Online Program

Tweets, retweets and public health messaging: How health departments engage the public in obesity prevention

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Susan Hoffner, MPH, Putnam County Department of Health, Brewster, NY
Penny Liberatos, PhD, School of Health Sciences & Practice, New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY
Barbara Ilardi, CDN, MPA, Health Education, Planning and Evaluation, Putnam County Department of Health, Brewster, NY
Background:  State/local health departments (SHD/LHDs) are charged with informing, educating and empowering people about health issues. The growth of social media (e.g. Twitter) has given health departments new tools with potential to positively impact message dissemination and ultimately public health. The purpose of this study is to provide an overview of how SHD/LHDs use Twitter for health promotion and to analyze tweet content generated by SHD/LHDs across the US concerning obesity. 

Methods:  Nearly 250 SHD/LHDs with both Twitter and Facebook accounts were identified.  Using the qualitative analysis software NVivo and its NCapture feature, 193,360 tweets from these health departments were captured and their content evaluated.  The content was analyzed using stem-word searches for 95 obesity-related keywords and grouped under four broad topics.  Frequency of tweets by topic and references to public health campaigns were obtained.  The proportion of original tweets was compared to retweets and their sources were determined.

Results:  Three-quarters of all identified SHDs used Twitter/Facebook, with all Midwestern SHDs using it but only about half of western SHDs doing so.  Almost all identified SHDs and two-thirds of identified LHDs tweeted about obesity topics.  Original content was disseminated approximately 65% of the time. Most common sources of retweeted material were national (CDC, ASTHO, RWJ) but also local (NYC Department of Health).

 Conclusion:  Use of social media by SHD/LHDs for health promotion is relatively new, but understanding how it is being used may help late adopters to see its utility in reaching a broad spectrum of their populations.

Learning Areas:

Communication and informatics
Public health or related education

Learning Objectives:
Describe the five most common obesity-related topics that SHD/LHDs are most likely to use social media to promote Compare frequency of original vs. retweeted content for obesity-related messages Describe the top 20 sources that health departments use when retweeting obesity-related messages Compare State and LHD frequencies of obesity-related messaging

Keyword(s): Social Media, Obesity

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I helped design, implement and analyze the data from the study. As a Health Educator at a public health department I have been responsible for the social media messaging for our county.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.