UCLA Turns To Social Media To Improve Teen Health

    February 11, 2010

With the average teen spending nine hours a week on social networking sites, the UCLA School of Public Health has partnered with Health Net of California to develop a health literacy program using social media in an effort to encourage teens from 13 to 17 to take better care of their health.

Michael-Prelip "Over 90 percent of teens today use social networking sites, not just to interact with their peers but also to get information about issues that are important to them," said Michael Prelip, a professor of community health sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health and one of the principal investigators of the project.

"This intervention will provide important clues about the effectiveness of social media in influencing adolescents’ understanding of their health care rights, responsibilities and benefits so that they can become good health care consumers."

The two-year project, funded by a $1.1 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, will use a randomized controlled trial to test the effectiveness of two different interventions – a Web-based social media intervention and a "usual care" intervention – to improve preventive care and decrease emergency room visits among adolescents.

"One of our chief goals is establishing best practices for encouraging teens to use their insurance and the health care system so they can become knowledgeable health care consumers as they transition into adulthood," said Nancy Wongvipat Kalev, Health Net’s director of health education and cultural and linguistic services and one of the study’s collaborators.

The study will look at the impact of various traditional and newer social media usage patterns regarding health literacy and preventive health practices.