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The Use of Social Media by State Health Departments in the US: Analyzing Health Communication Through Facebook


The use of social media as a powerful health communication tool is an area of current research interest. Our objective was to describe use of Facebook by State Health Departments (SHDs) in US, and their relationship with CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data. Facebook pages of 34 SHDs were studied over a 200 day period, coding 2597 posts into 19 broad health communication categories. Mean number of Facebook posts per SHD was 76.4 (range 34–133); most frequent topic areas included healthy living (12 %), communicable diseases (9 %), vaccines and immunization (7 %), emergency preparedness and response (7 %), infant and child health (5 %), smoking and tobacco use (5 %), and miscellaneous (32 %). Through web-based interactive graphics (Google motion charts), we contrasted Facebook posts with CDC’s BRFSS data on adult nutrition and physical activity, vaccination, smoking, adolescent health and road traffic accidents. Our research finds an apparent disconnect between content provided on Facebook by SHDs and the health conditions that affect their populations. Acknowledging the severe limitations in funding and human resources faced by the SHDs, our research attempts to present the factual situation in embracing a vastly popular social media platform for health communication. We believe there is a need for research exploring methods to balance the demands and resources.

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We acknowledge funding support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cooperative agreement numbers: 1U90TP000417-05 (Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center) and 5PO1TP000307-05 (Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center) Supplement. The content of this publication as well as the views and discussions expressed in this paper are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of any partner organizations, the CDC or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Ayan Jha.

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Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Coding list for facebook posts:

  1. 1.

    Adolescent health

  2. 2.

    Cancer Prevention: Breast Cancer; Cervical Cancer (Pap Smear, HPV vaccination); Other Cancers

  3. 3.

    Chronic Diseases: Diabetes and Hypertension; Others

  4. 4.

    Communicable Diseases: HIV/AIDS and STDs; Influenza (Flu); West Nile Virus; Others

  5. 5.

    Drugs and Alcohol: Alcohol addiction; Prescription drug abuse; Other addictions

  6. 6.

    Emergency Preparedness and Response: Community resilience; General emergency preparedness; Summer preparedness; Winter preparedness (Carbon monoxide poisoning, Emergency kit advice, Others)

  7. 7.

    Environmental Health

  8. 8.

    Geriatric Health

  9. 9.

    Health Insurance

  10. 10.

    Healthy Living: Healthy Community; Living, Medical advice etc.; Nutrition and Diet; Physical Exercise

  11. 11.

    Infant and Child Health: Infant health; Child health

  12. 12.

    Injury and Violence: Road Traffic Accidents; Violence (Suicide, Others); Other injuries

  13. 13.

    Mental Health

  14. 14.

    Miscellaneous: Promotion and Announcements; Meetings; Job postings

  15. 15.

    Pet Health

  16. 16.

    Reproductive Health

  17. 17.

    Smoking and Tobacco use

  18. 18.

    Vaccines and Immunization: Flu Vaccination; Others

  19. 19.

    Women’s Health

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Jha, A., Lin, L. & Savoia, E. The Use of Social Media by State Health Departments in the US: Analyzing Health Communication Through Facebook. J Community Health 41, 174–179 (2016).

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  • Social media
  • Health communication
  • State Health Department
  • Facebook
  • CDC