Can 'tweets' predict obesity? UW Researchers aim to find out

SEATTLE - Are your Twitter interactions directly related to the size of your waistline? That's what researchers at the University of Washington's School of Public Health want to find out.

The school has funded a new study lead by Professor Ali Shojaie to understand the impact of social networks on obesity among different demographic groups.

"We are trying to see if any factors in social networking are associated with health outcomes," Shojaie said.

Shojaie's work was influence by a 2007 study by Harvard Medical School in which researchers discovered obesity can spread through social networks. The study suggests one person's health influences the health of others in their social circle, in positive and negative ways.

Shojaie said he wants to find out if the same is true for online friends, specifically those we communicate with via Twitter.

"Twitter is much more alive than other social media," he said. "People are communicating with each other at all times, broadcasting their thoughts."

Shojaie is working with a team of students to first determine the most effective way to collect data from Twitter. Eventually, he hopes to develop predictability models to determine people at risk for certain health concerns, including obesity.

"We are interested in finding out, 'How can we use data from social media networks to answer health questions?'"