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Originally published September 14 2010

Social networking powerful tool to promote good health

by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) The power of social networking to connect friends and help businesses connect with existing and potential clientele continues to be a driving force in today's world because of its incredible success. But how can social networking work to promote better health? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) believes that if people promote healthy lifestyles within their social networks, public health as a whole will significantly improve.

Recent studies have shown that people's behaviors rub off onto their friends. Bad habits like smoking and overeating are contagious, say many researchers. But so are good behaviors like eating healthy, exercising and getting good rest, which is why NIH is offering funding to scientists willing to work on improving public health through social networking.

"We've come to realize more and more that how people live and function in social networks is really important to health," explained Deborah Olster, acting director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at NIH.

Several researchers have already come up with creative ideas to promote better health through social networks. Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School believes that creating artificial social groups around things like losing weight or eating better will help to encourage unhealthy people to improve their lifestyles.

Christakis also suggests using social group "leaders" to influence their existing social groups with custom-tailored health messages. People who hold significant influence within their social circles could promote cutting high-fructose corn syrup from their diets, for instance, and many of their friends would follow suit because of the nature of their relationship.

Researchers have also tested peer-led programs at local schools in which students encourage their friends towards positive lifestyle behavior. Drug intervention programs, for instance, have been around for a long time, but experts are now coming to grips with the fact that those delivering the message are just as important as the message itself when it comes to effectiveness. And this is where the power of social networking comes into play.

"You can't divorce the content of the program from the people delivering it," emphasized Thomas Valente, author of a 2003 study that evaluated the power of social networking in an anti-smoking prevention program at a Southern California school. "The message is really the messenger."

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