Raina Merchant, the lead author of the study and the director of Penn Medicine’s Center for Digital Health, and her team of researchers in conjunction with researchers from Stony Brook University(The State University of New York) report in Penn Medicine News that language in Facebook posts may give early identification to life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, anxiety, depression snd psychosis in individuals. With a patients consent, medical practitioners could analyze their postings in Facebook to be monitored just like their physical symptoms to help physicians better treat their patients.
The study looked at over 1,000 participants with almost 75 percent of them being black women younger than 30 years old. And the study found a connection between obesity and their condition of diabetes.
The study also showed a connection between those who used the words ‘God’ or ‘pray’ in their Facebook posts to be 15 times more likely to have diabetes than those who didn’t.
Some other correlation to word usage and other diseases were: ‘drink or bottle’ more predictive of alcohol abuse; words of ‘hostility’ like dumb or expletives linked to drug abuse and psychoses.
The study, summarized by Andrew Schwartz, PhD, who is a visiting assistant professor at Penn in Computer and Information Science, and who is also an assistant professor of Computer Science at Stony Brook University, shows that our digital language has a powerful means of capturing our real lives in a way that traditional medical data doesn’t.
However, other factors need to be considered as far as those who use the words ‘God’ and‘pray’ in their Facebook posts. Factors such as diet, economic status, and lifestyles. Perhaps individuals in lower income levels who also go to church do not have access to healthy foods which are more expensive and thus consume more junk food which leads to obesity which leads to diabetes. So the cause for obesity and diabetes isn’t religiosity but could be more of an income level status.
One study done in 2006 suggests that participants, mostly women, attended religious functions where food is always served up and where sermons in their church services did not preach on gluttony the way excessive alcoholism, smoking and sexual promiscuity was addressed, encouraged obesity.
One concern for using language posted on social network to aid in a person’s medical treatment is privacy. Although Merchant is hopeful that social media postings could someday be used to assist doctors in their diagnosis of diseases early or even prevent them completely, their needs to be more work on determining how all that data could be safely used and shared without breeching a person’s privacy.