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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Blanch-Hartigan, D., Blake, K. D., & Viswanath, K. (2014). Cancer survivors’ use of numerous information sources for cancer-related information: Does more matter? Journal of Cancer Education, 29(3), 488–496. doi:10.1007/s13187-014-0642-x.
CDC USA. (2012a). CDC’s Guide to Writing for Social Media. http://www.cdc.gov/socialmedia/tools/guidelines/pdf/guidetowritingforsocialmedia.pdf
CDC USA. (2012b). Sortable Risk Factors and Health Indicators. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. www.cdc.gov/sortablestats/
Chou, W. Y., Hunt, Y. M., Beckjord, E. B., Moser, R. P., & Hesse, B. W. (2009). Social media use in the United States: implications for health communication. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 11(4), e48. doi:10.2196/jmir.1249.
Department of Health and Human Services, U. (2014). Centers for disease control and prevention. Retrieved December 15, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/
Duggan, M., & Brennar, J. (2012). The demographics of social media users—2012. Pew Research Center’s internet and American life project, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/02/14/the-demographics-of-social-media-users-2012/
Fox, S., & Duggan, M. (2013). Pew research center’s internet and American life project. Health online. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/01/15/health-online-2013/
Google Developers. (2014). Google charts. Retrieved June, 2014, from https://developers.google.com/chart/interactive/docs/gallery/motionchart
Harris, J. K., Mueller, N. L., & Snider, D. (2013). Social media adoption in local health departments nationwide. American Journal of Public Health, 103(9), 1700–1707. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.301166.
Heldman, A. B., Schindelar, J., & Weaver, J. B. I. (2013). Social media engagement and public health communication: implications for public health organizations being truly “social”. Public Health Reviews, 35, 1.
Jha, A. (2014). Personal interviews with Massachusetts Department of Public Health, New York State Department of Health, CDC Atlanta, National Public Health Information Coalition.
Lin, L., Jung, M., McCloud, R. F., & Viswanath, K. (2014). Media use and communication inequalities in a public health emergency: A case study of 2009–2010 pandemic influenza a virus subtype H1N1. Public Health Reports, 129(Supplement 4), 1–19.
Merchant, R. M., Elmer, S., & Lurie, N. (2011). Integrating social media into emergency-preparedness efforts. New England Journal of Medicine, 365(4), 289–291. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1103591.
Moorhead, S. A., Hazlett, D. E., Harrison, L., Carroll, J. K., Irwin, A., & Hoving, C. (2013). A new dimension of health care: Systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 15(4), e85. doi:10.2196/jmir.1933.
NPHIC. (2014). NPHIC Newsletters. http://www.nphic.org/news/newsletters
Ramanadhan, S., Mendez, S. R., Rao, M., & Viswanath, K. (2013). Social media use by community-based organizations conducting health promotion: a content analysis. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 1129. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1129.
Ramanadhan, S., & Viswanath, K. (2006). Health and the information nonseeker: A profile. Health Commun, 20(2), 131–139. doi:10.1207/s15327027hc2002_4.
Thackeray, R., Neiger, B. L., Smith, A. K., & Van Wagenen, S. B. (2012). Adoption and use of social media among public health departments. BMC Public Health, 12, 242. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-242.
Viswanath, K., & Ackerson, L. K. (2011). Race, ethnicity, language, social class, and health communication inequalities: a nationally-representative cross-sectional study. PLoS ONE, 6(1), e14550. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014550.
Yip, M. P., Ong, B., Painter, I., Meischke, H., Calhoun, B., & Tu, S. P. (2009). Information-seeking behaviors and response to the H1N1 outbreak in Chinese limited-English proficient individuals living in King County, Washington. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, 4(6), 353–360.
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.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
Coding list for facebook posts:
Cancer Prevention: Breast Cancer; Cervical Cancer (Pap Smear, HPV vaccination); Other Cancers
Chronic Diseases: Diabetes and Hypertension; Others
Communicable Diseases: HIV/AIDS and STDs; Influenza (Flu); West Nile Virus; Others
Drugs and Alcohol: Alcohol addiction; Prescription drug abuse; Other addictions
Emergency Preparedness and Response: Community resilience; General emergency preparedness; Summer preparedness; Winter preparedness (Carbon monoxide poisoning, Emergency kit advice, Others)
Healthy Living: Healthy Community; Living, Medical advice etc.; Nutrition and Diet; Physical Exercise
Infant and Child Health: Infant health; Child health
Injury and Violence: Road Traffic Accidents; Violence (Suicide, Others); Other injuries
Miscellaneous: Promotion and Announcements; Meetings; Job postings
Smoking and Tobacco use
Vaccines and Immunization: Flu Vaccination; Others
About this article
Cite this article
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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10900-015-0083-4
- Social media
- Health communication
- State Health Department