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Using Facebook to study cardiovascular health

A recently launched social-network based project aims to help researchers understand how Facebook friendships may influence cardiovascular health.

The project, titled the Social Heart Study, was developed by UC San Francisco epidemiologist Mark Pletcher, MD, MPH, and UC San Diego behavioral geneticist James Fowler, PhD, as a low-cost approach to examine if interacting on Facebook has any favorable or adverse effects on users' hearts. To do so, the researchers created a Facebook app, which is still in beta, to allow people to share information about their health and online activity. According to a Spoonful of Medicine post today:

... eventually, the organizers hope to recruit a cohort of more than a million adults who are willing to pour their hearts out (so to speak) for science. All this personal information should form a huge online database for observational and interventional studies into cardiovascular health, and should reveal new online ways to prevent heart disease, the organizers say.

Study subjects can decide how much social or health data they want to contribute by choosing one of three tiers of enrolment. At the highest tier, the participants will be able to sign up for prospective, controlled clinical trials conducted completely via the Internet. "There is a need for new low-cost ways of doing interventional research and this is a great possibility," says Pletcher.

Previously: Analyzing H1N1 vaccination rates and attitudes using Twitter data, Using Facebook to assess alcohol-related problems among college students, Facebook app models how viruses spread through human interaction and Mining Twitter data to track public health trends

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