Author: Anna Garcia
HLTH 640: Health Communication, Summer 2020
Me & You
As a young person living in the year 2020, I have grown up in the age of technology and seen its influence on individuals and populations in a variety of settings. Phones, computers, tablets, and other forms of technology keep people in a place of constant distraction and gives them the ability to have information at their fingertips every minute of every day. While in many ways this is a blessing in cases such as being able to contact emergency services, get food quickly, and more, it has also become difficult in the world of health. There are many websites and phone applications that have made life easier in regard to saving time but have not benefitted the world’s overall health. As you can see, understanding social media’s effect on health is very difficult to fully understand and I believe that it is important to keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” approach.
Growing up in the 1990’s I have been witness to the true uprising of technology for everyday use in the household. This exploring of technology makes me what some would call a digital native (Fenton & Panay, 2013), or someone who has been born and raised in the technology era. Before jumping into the variety of ways in which technology has helped or hurt us, it is important to recognize and explore the way that social media has created an influence on the people in our society. Most of the United States wakes up each morning looking at a phone to check text messages, missed calls, or different applications such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more. In some cases, this is great for communicating, but has become somewhat of a negative ritual in our society. This is then followed by a trip to work or the office where we stare at computers screens and make calls on our phones most of the day while sitting still at a desk, with very little movement. Before you know it, you are back home unwinding by binge-watching your favorite T.V. show or videos on your phone while you order food online or on your phone to be delivered to your home, so you do not need to leave your couch. As you can see, technology is prevalent in our everyday lives and plays a huge role in influencing our day, how we view ourselves, our health, and how we live.
As someone who takes part in a variety of social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, I understand first-hand, the influence it has on me each day. Two forms or applications that I think are most influential are Instagram and YouTube as they are highly impressionable to society and are easy to get stuck and “brainwashed” in. I use the term brainwashed because as I have continued to use the applications as I grow as an individual, intellectually myself, and I have come to understand how these affect my own and others’ lives. Let us take Instagram into consideration for example. This is an application and social media site where individuals can post pictures and short clips where their friends, families, and in many cases, strangers can view it for themselves. While relatively innocent at heart, it has also become a breeding ground for health information from some professionals, but mostly “normal” people with no credentials on the topics they speak of or promote. This is dangerous and confusing for the public as it provides information that is not necessarily correct and can be unsafe in many cases, especially for the sick, unhealthy, and impressionable youth that are highly active on this site.
There are many clear negatives on social media’s impact on the health of the population. On one hand, having the ability to gain knowledge and information at any time of the day on whatever topic, is really amazing, but at the same time, social media provides a platform for anyone to speak about a topic, whether they are educated about the subject matter or not. Interestingly enough, most of the information you look up regarding your
health was never actually written by a health professional (Fenton & Panay, 2013). I am a huge fan of multiple health blogs and podcasts, and am aware that most information, unless backed up with the proper research, should be taken with a grain of salt, but I am also here writing a blog post for an online master’s in nutrition education, and am aware of this. Not everyone has the privilege to know and learn about these topics, making this a blurry subject to dive into and explore.
Another dangerous aspect of this is the way in which health and beauty play a role on the matter. For instance, through watching a television show or even searching symptoms on WebMD, many people come across information that may or may not be helpful. A running joke in my family if that if you are sick, it is best to not look up the symptoms otherwise you may be convinced that you are dying. These unrealistic portrayals of health can be almost as mentally damaging as other negative behaviors surrounding picture taking (Wright et al., 2013). For any young teen it seems that going on applications such as Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook seem to be a daily ritual. Having gone through this myself, I feel that I can speak highly on the large influx of social media influencers posting highly edited photos of themselves highlighting their “best” or most alluring features. In some cases, these are just innocent individuals expressing themselves artistically, but some of these individuals are portraying unhealthy behaviors (Wright et al., 2013) such as extremely thin waists, or cosmetic procedures for women and large muscles and extreme tonnage for men. Whether natural or not, it promotes unhealthy ideas for youth to be looking at each day since many see these influencers as role models in their lives on how to be or look.
On a More Positive Note
On another note, there are a lot of amazing people out there to learn from and topics to be explored that are completely correct, valid, and worth everyone’s time to take a glance at. The issue is where to begin and how to know that what your reading, watching, or listening to is good information that is backed up by scientific research. Having technology and phone applications at our fingertips allows for the medical field to communicate across the world with one another, be up to date with current health updates, and can even help with communication between clinician and patient (Fenton & Panay, 2013). Social media also gives people who may not usually think about exercising or healthy eating as an aspect of their daily life, begin to consider this. I know that I personally began my own research and interest on the topic of nutrition online. I decided myself that I would further my education due to the fact that through exploring the topic of nutrition through literature and online platforms, I wanted to make a difference myself – with the proper information.
Take the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic for example. As of right now, medical professionals are able to receive and give out the most recent updates and track the situation, which is not something that was once available. Through social media applications the message of “Stay Home” has become more impactful due to the ability and use of technology. Without this, some of us would be at home with family, but many by ourselves with no communication. Many are finding this time home alone more exhausting and lonelier than ever. A study done in 2016 explored this topic by looking deeper into how mental health is impacted through social-isolation and it was discovered that extreme and extended social-isolation has a highly negative impact on morality and overall mental and physical health (Tanskanen & Anttila, 2016). With that being said, it is devastating to imagine the state of the country’s mental health at this point in time. Phone applications, blogs, podcasts, and technology, in general, have provided our world with the ability to stay sane and be safe at home, while also feeling up to date about what is going on in the world around us.
Personally, as someone who likes to try to stay healthy and fit, self-isolation has been a bit of a struggle since staying active is not as exciting in this current environment. While I am not a fitness or exercise guru, I have been utilizing a variety of free streaming services online and through YouTube to be able to incorporate a daily workout into my regimen without having to go too crazy, but can still reach the recommended weekly amount of 150 minutes of physical activity (Tuso, 2015). This has given me the ability to stay somewhat active indoors, with no weights – for free. Prior to our technologically savvy generation, this was not something available to the population. During this pandemic not only has social media helped in regard to communication but has helped with physical fitness as well. This is great for overall health and can continue to help people fight off disease and thus help to spread good physical activity and fitness practices for the population (Tuso, 2015).
As you can see, understanding social media’s effect on health is very difficult to fully understand and I believe that it is important to keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” approach in handling the concept moving forward. In a study done in 2014 on social networking and its impact on mental health, it was found difficult to fully understand whether or not social media helps or hurts overall health (Pantic, 2014). For some, it can cause great psychiatric damage and can lead to depression and low self- esteem, but for some, it can be stimulating, great for networking, and be an overall positive addition to someone’s life (Pantic, 2014). With that being said, I think it is important to keep in mind here that social media and technology clearly have an impact on everyone’s health and should be utilized in moderation. It is best to experience life on and off the screen to be able to enjoy the varying aspects of life socially for both mental and physical health.
Fenton, A. & Panay, N. (2013). Social media and health. Climacteric, 16(6), 609-610.
Pantic, I. (2014). Online social networking and mental health. Cyberpsychology, behavior, and social networking, 17(10), 652-657.
Tanskanen, J., & Anttila, T. (2016). A prospective study of social isolation, loneliness, and mortality in Finland. American journal of public health. 106(11), 2042-2048.
Tuso, P. (2015). Strategies to increase physical activity. The Permanente Journal. 19(4), 84-88.
Wright, K.B., Sparks, L., & O’Hair, H.D. (2013). Health Communication the 21st Century, second edition. John Wiley & Sons.