The use of social media in epidemiological studies remains an area that is viewed with skepticism. Epidemiologists often track disease trends following tip-offs and concerns gathered from traditional channels of information (Garrity, 2011). In this study, the researcher will use social media as a tool for gathering information about the eating and exercise patterns of the participants. The researcher will track the updates and photos put up by the participants on Face Book.
The inclusion of social media as a source of data is hinged on the following reasons: social media attracts millions of young people across the world. With easy access to the internet and the availability of hand-held technological devices such as Ipads and mobile phones, children as young as seven years currently have access to one or more social site (Fox, 2011). Most of the children and adolescents use the sites to keep in touch with their friends. This entails sharing snippets of their lives in the form of photos and updates. These updates could provide valuable insights into the activities the study participants engage in beyond the confines of the school. It could also provide information regarding their dietary choices. Based on this information, the BMIs of the participants could be related to their dietary choices and exercise patterns.
Social media acts as an informal diary for youngsters (Fox, 2011). Most of the updates chronicle day to day activities such as going to school, visiting a restaurant and attending a gym class. For the participants who are keeping a diary of their activities after school, it would be easy to verify the information they provide by counterchecking against the information and photos that they post on Face Book.
The researcher shall also include questions about the time spent on social media in the study. These questions will be geared towards determining the amount of time the youngsters dedicated to performing sedentary tasks. This will enable the researcher to determine the relationship between the incidence of obesity among the youngsters and their sedentary lifestyle.
New data management tool
One of the most recently developed tools of data management is a tool referred to as TADA. Technology Assisted Dietary Assessment (TADA) is a prototype application that can be incorporated into smart phones (Boushey, Delp, Ebert, Okos, & Craig, 2010). The tool has been lauded as one of the most convenient ways of monitoring what young children and adolescents are consuming on a daily basis. Using TADA is simple. An individual simply takes a picture of a meal they are about to have before consuming the meal. They also take a photo of their plate after consuming their food. The software proceeds to calculate the dietary components of the meal (Boushey, Delp, Ebert, Okos, & Craig, 2010).
TADA has been lauded for the following reasons: it provides accurate insights into the dietary habits of young children and adolescents. The eating habits of this population are known to be erratic. While it is possible to collect information about dietary habits using self reported accounts, verifying the information provided during such studies is a difficult task. However, with TADA, such information is captured in a manner that engages the participants (Boushey, Delp, Ebert, Okos, & Craig, 2010). The information captured can also be retrieved in the future with relative ease.
Using TADA enables researchers to track dietary patterns over longer periods. This has often proven to be a cumbersome task in the past as keeping diaries can be a cumbersome process. By collecting information over a period of years, researchers can determine whether there are periods in the adolescent’s life that are marked by a preference of certain foods over others (Boushey, Delp, Ebert, Okos, & Craig, 2010). They can also determine the impact of such preferences on the overall health of the adolescents. The application is still a work in progress. In the future, researchers hope that they can analyze data obtained from millions of adolescents using the application (Boushey, Delp, Ebert, Okos, & Craig, 2010).
This tool can be incorporated into studies about the efficacy of dietary interventions. It can also be used to determine the dietary patterns in large geographical areas such as an entire country or a continent.
Boushey, CJ., Delp, JE., Ebert, DS., Okos, M., & Craig, B. (2010). An Overview of The Technology Assisted Dietary Assessment Project at Purdue University. Pubmed , 290-295.
Fox, S. (2011, May 12). The Social Life of Health Information, 2011. Retrieved March 5, 2014, from Pew research internet project: http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/05/12/the-social-life-of-health-information-2011/
Garrity, B. (2011, June 13). Social media join tool kit for hunters of disease. Retrieved March 5, 2014, from New York Times : http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/14/health/research/14social.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0