AHA News: Can Social Media Be Good for Your Health?
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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 22, 2020 (American Heart Association News) — Combine the vast power and reach of social media, the unlimited resources of websites and apps, and the unquenchable thirst for health information and motivation. The result is a powerful tool for researchers, health care providers and patients. But like many aspects of the internet, it can be a mixed blessing.
“Social media are an incredible product to provide support and promote good information in ways we couldn’t do before,” said Dr. Raina Merchant, director of the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health in Philadelphia. “They can be a powerful way to understand what patients are talking about and what their concerns are.”
Her research has included analyzing Facebook posts to predict medical and psychological problems, using Yelp to evaluate drug treatment facilities, and helping clinicians use social media to better understand their patients’ experiences.
In analyzing millions of health-related tweets, however, she encountered a pervasive online dilemma: misinformation.
“One that was really common was that people were saying if you eat frozen lemons, that will cure your diabetes,” she said. “Of course, that’s ridiculous, but you can do a lot of damage by stopping your medication and just eating frozen lemons. We have to counteract that.”
That’s the challenge at the intersection of social media and public health: harnessing the vast potential for good, while guarding against the pitfalls.
“Social media can be a great place to learn health tips and get inspiration from others,” said Loren Coleman, vice president of marketing and communications of Action for Healthy Kids. The nonprofit promotes health and well-being for children and families at schools nationwide and supports using social media to further those goals. “And it can be a great way for adults, and even families together, to challenge themselves to make healthy lifestyle changes and keep yourself accountable.”
On the other hand, she said, “Cyberbullying is a huge problem. Parents need to be involved online and offline to help their kids navigate social media.”
The scope of social media is hard to overestimate. A recent Pew Research Center study calculated 81% of Americans use smartphones and nearly as many have desktop or laptop computers. The center also concluded 72% of U.S. adults use some type of social media. Among adults, 69% use Facebook, 37% use Instagram and 22% use Twitter.
There are countless websites and apps dispensing health information, tracking nutrition and fitness, offering encouragement and inspiration, linking people to support one another, even providing real-time medical advice.
At the professional level, Dr. Robert Harrington, an interventional cardiologist and chair of the department of medicine at Stanford University in California, said social media is becoming “a really positive addition to how I live my professional life. It’s a more efficient use of my time, allowing me to digest and consider a lot more information than I used to.”
Harrington cites many ways social media enhances his work: more access to scientific journals, immediate interaction with colleagues far and wide, wider exposure to different perspectives.
At the same time, he’s not oblivious to the downside.
“One of the great things about social media is there’s a diversity of perspective,” Harrington said. “One of the challenges is that some of those perspectives can be dangerously wrong.”
Lately, the cardiologist has been tangling online with people unhappy with his opposition to vaping because of the health dangers.
“They don’t want to talk about data or science, they want to talk about how they feel,” he said.
But Harrington said professionals shouldn’t shy away from the debate.
“You’ve got to be willing to engage,” he said. “I encourage clinicians and scientists to be on social media. We need more truthful voices in these conversations rather than belief-oriented voices.”
“Health care providers can’t just leave it up to the internet to determine what’s correct,” she said. “We have to be part of the discussion and we have to defend good science.”
For the general public, the challenge is on the receiving end. With more information than ever available, the task is sorting through it all and determining what is credible.
“You need to figure out which are trusted sources,” Harrington said. “That means getting different perspectives and using critical thinking.”
Coleman said the term “infobesity” captures the overload of information that can inundate people on social media and everywhere online.
“Managing all of that for ourselves and our children in a healthy way is really vital,” she said.
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all views expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected]
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BetterHealth mentions these warning signs that you should immediately stop exercising:
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 22, 2020 (HealthDay News) — The Harvard-associated lab that created the “CoolSculpting” process of reducing fat says it’s on the trail of the next advance in nonsurgical slimming.
CoolSculpting freezes fat cells by applying an ice-cold gel pad to the skin, causing cells to die off and either be flushed away or absorbed by the body, said lead researcher Dr. Lilit Garibyan, an investigator at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Now her lab is trying to make that process even more effective by injecting an icy liquid slurry directly into fat deposits.
In tests with pigs, the injectable slurry containing 20% to 40% ice caused fat deposits to melt away over several weeks, researchers reported recently in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
The procedure is headed to human clinical trials next, and researchers hope to have it approved and on the market in a few years, Garibyan said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved CoolSculpting in 2008. Garibyan said it remains the only noninvasive technology the FDA has cleared to reduce and reshape fat deposits in the body.
The process works using a principle that you observe every time you open your refrigerator — fats freeze at a lower temperature than water, she said.
Butter turns to liquid at warmer temperatures, but solidifies in the fridge, Garibyan said. Water remains liquid at warm or cool temperatures.
“Lipid-rich tissue is more sensitive to cold injury,” Garibyan said. “You can get adipose or lipid-rich tissue to die, where nothing happens to water-rich surrounding tissue like skin or muscle.”
If applying cold pads to the outside skin can cause fat cells to die, the researchers reasoned, then a very cold solution injected directly into a fat deposit might work even better.
A sterile solution of normal saline and glycerol is brought to near-freezing temperatures, then injected into fatty areas.
The solution caused fat cells to crystallize and die in test pigs, and fat deposits to shrink, researchers reported.
But it didn’t harm any of the surrounding tissue, Garibyan added.
“When we inject this directly into muscle or skin, nothing happens. There’s no significant injury. It would only be the fat tissue that’s affected,” she said.
This new process seems promising, but is more invasive than CoolSculpting and will need tests to prove its safety, said Dr. Charles Salzberg, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He wasn’t part of the research.
Salzberg said CoolSculpting is a very safe process, but often under-delivers in terms of expected fat reduction.
The newly developed injection “is a very positive thing and it could be a wonderful tool to get rid of localized fat, but it would have to be proven safe,” Salzberg said. “You are injecting ice fluid into the patients. Do they have any problems?”
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SOURCES: Lilit Garibyan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Charles Salzberg, M.D., chief, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Mount Sinai Health System, New York City; Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, online, Jan. 7, 2020
Millennials Most Likely to Skip Flu Shot, Believe 'Anti-Vaxxer' Claims: Poll
THURSDAY, Jan. 16, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Millennials are less likely to have had a flu shot this season and are more likely than other American adults to agree with some false anti-vaccination information, according to a new nationwide survey.
The results also showed that nearly one-third of adults polled don’t plan to get a flu shot and many underestimate how deadly flu can be.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)-commissioned survey of U.S. adults aged 25 to 73 found that 51% haven’t had a flu shot this season, and 32% don’t plan to get one.
When asked a series of factual questions about the flu, 82% answered at least one wrong, and 28% got all of them wrong.
“It is very alarming to see how people are being influenced by the anti-vax movement,” Dr. Alexa Mieses, a family physician in Durham, N.C., said in an AAFP news release.
Millennials — the nation’s largest demographic group, ages 24 to 39 — were least likely to have had a flu shot this season (55%), according to the survey. Of those, 33% don’t plan to get one.
Misinformation about vaccinations may be a factor. About 61% of millennials who are familiar with the anti-vaccination movement said they agreed with some of its beliefs. That’s more than the 52% rate for all adults and far higher than among baby boomers (42%).
Millennials were much more likely to say they don’t have time to get vaccinated (25%) than Generation X (12%) and baby boomers (6%). Millennials were also nearly twice as likely as older generations to forget to get the shot.
The survey also showed millennials are the least informed about flu facts, with 86% of them getting at least one question wrong and 31% getting all of them wrong.
In addition, the results showed that black Americans who are familiar with the anti-vaccination movement were most likely to say they agree with its beliefs (61%). But only 45% of black Americans said they were familiar with it, compared with 55% of adults overall; 53% of Asian Americans; and 59% of Hispanic Americans.
“Whether they are young adults or African Americans, we need to make sure that these communities are educated about the importance of vaccines and that they understand the source of the rhetoric they’re hearing,” Mieses said. “It’s clear they are being influenced by myths and misinformation, and it’s critical that the facts reach them, too.”
Parents are also highly likely to be affected by misinformation, the survey showed.
Nearly three out of five parents surveyed said their child had missed a flu shot at least once, often due to vaccine misinformation or misunderstandings: 21% said they didn’t want their child to get sick from the shot, 13% didn’t think kids need it and 10% didn’t consider flu serious.
This flu season, the United States has had 4,800 flu-related deaths so far, including 32 children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last season, an estimated 116 children died from the flu.
Officials said last week that it’s too soon to say whether this year’s flu vaccine is effective against the strains that are circulating. But experts added that people still have time to get the shot.
“It’s concerning to see that parents are misinformed, thinking the flu shot can give their children the flu or that they don’t need it,” Mieses said, adding that many simply don’t consider a flu shot as important as other vaccines.
“We need to make sure they understand the seriousness of the flu so they can protect and immunize their children and themselves,” she added.