Can Facebook friendships impact heart health? Find out what we learned on Day 3 of the American College of Cardiology's Scientific Session & Expo.
Social media platforms like Facebook play a big role in many people’s lives, and according to a new study presented at the 2023 American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session, better economic connectedness on Facebook may be linked with lower rates of premature cardiovascular death.
This is the first study to examine health outcomes using Facebook friendships as a benchmark for economic connectedness, which the study defined as linkages between people of lower and higher socioeconomic status.
To estimate economic connectedness at the neighborhood level, researchers utilized a multifaceted machine learning algorithm that tracked users’ friendship status on Facebook—not the level of engagement on posts or messages—and compared that with rates of premature cardiovascular death by analyzing records from over 900,000 deaths among people between the ages of 25 and 65 that occurred between 2018 and 2020.
Researchers found that on both a national and regional level, areas with higher economic connectedness were more likely to have lower rates of premature cardiovascular death. This economic connectedness was estimated to explain 57 percent of the inter-county variability in premature cardiovascular death rates after adjusting for various factors, including race, sex, and county-level risk factors.
Based on these findings, researchers believe that having in-person and online relationships with those of higher economic status could help raise awareness of and access to educational and job opportunities, as well as heart-healthy lifestyle habits. This could potentially impact economic prospects and long-term health outcomes.
A few limitations that are important to note, however, are that this study only included people who have Facebook accounts, and it’s unclear how the economic connectedness on Facebook translates to the connectedness of the general population. Additionally, using Facebook friendships to determine economic connectedness is a relatively new approach, so it still needs to be validated against other metrics.
With that being said, more research is needed to better understand if social media-derived economic connectedness can be a useful and reliable way to predict heart disease risk and direct efforts to improve heart health at the community level.