Geotagged US Tweets as Predictors of County-Level Health Outcomes, 2015-2016

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Abstract

Objectives

To leverage geotagged Twitter data to create national indicators of the social environment, with small-area indicators of prevalent sentiment and social modeling of health behaviors, and to test associations with county-level health outcomes, while controlling for demographic characteristics.

Methods

We used Twitter’s streaming application programming interface to continuously collect a random 1% subset of publicly available geo-located tweets in the contiguous United States. We collected approximately 80 million geotagged tweets from 603 363 unique Twitter users in a 12-month period (April 2015-March 2016).

Results

Across 3135 US counties, Twitter indicators of happiness, food, and physical activity were associated with lower premature mortality, obesity, and physical inactivity. Alcohol-use tweets predicted higher alcohol-use-related mortality.

Conclusions

Social media represents a new type of real-time data that may enable public health officials to examine movement of norms, sentiment, and behaviors that may portend emerging issues or outbreaks-thus providing a way to intervene to prevent adverse health events and measure the impact of health interventions.

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