Online Social Networks and Health


The research project Online Social Networks and Health focuses on the analysis of the relationships between the structure and content of an individual‘s online social network, the resulting opportunities and limitations to accessing resources, and his or her health-related behaviors and body weight.

Research Picture

Causes, consequences and treatment and intervention of overweight and obesity

Project Description

Overweight and obesity have become an issue of global concern. According to the World Health Organization (WHO 2011), 1.5 billion adults were overweight in 2008 and nearly 43 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2010. The causes of overweight and obesity are multifaceted and result from the co-occurrence and interaction of several factors. Individual medical conditions may determine a person’s susceptibility to gain weight but cannot explain the dramatic increase of the number of obese people worldwide (WHO 2000). Changes in individual behaviors leading to an increased intake of high-caloric foods and a decrease of physical activity are suggested to determine the global obesity epidemic (WHO 2011; Huffman 2011).

Individual behaviors, preferences and lifestyle choices are subject to social and environmental influences and social networks have been identified as one of the most important dimension of people’s social environment that may enable or constrain the adoption of health-promoting behaviors (McNeill et al. 2006). As ideas, behaviors and trends are passed on within people’s social environment, a person-to-person spread of obesity within social networks has been suggested (Christakis and Fowler 2007). Previous studies have focused on the spread of obesity within traditional (offline) social networks. Yet, the dramatic growth of electronic (online) social networks has resulted in blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual world (BVDW 2010). Deeply embedded in people’s daily life, online social connections may – just as „real world contacts“ shape people’s opinions and possibly exert influence on their health-related behaviors (Ma et al. 2010).

The main research question addressed in this research project is: How do the properties and thus available resources in an individual’s online social network influence his or her health-related behaviors and body weight?

Related Student Reports (excerpt)

  • How to measure the influence of online social networks on obesity using Facebook
    (Martin Wolff; Master Thesis; 2012)
  • A framework to measure the influence of online social networks on obesity
    (Janine Viol; Master Thesis; 2011)