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What you post on social media could be used to diagnose a medical condition

If you’re a regular on Facebook, think about your list of friends and the kinds of posts you see when scrolling through the News Feed. You’ve got the obligatory vacation photos, baby pics, memes and let’s not forget about those eye-roll-inducing “I bet you won’t share this…” posts.

You’ll also see short and sweet status updates, along with lengthy TMI posts from the oversharers. Those are the friends who tend to divulge way too much about their personal lives to everyone else, from detailed reports on their relationship woes to their current mental state.

And the details you post on Facebook can say a lot about you, not just who you are as a person. A new study says your posts can actually help predict current or even future medical conditions.

Hidden meaning in your Facebook status updates

Earlier this month, a group of scientists from the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Medicine and Stony Brook University published a paper in the research journal PLOS ONE. According to their study, what you say and the words you use in your Facebook status updates can also paint a picture of your health.

Researchers used an algorithm to analyze every Facebook post from about 1,000 people who consented to the study, which also involved linking their social profiles to their medical records. They looked at the language used in those Facebook posts in one model, general demographics (age, sex, race, etc.) in the second and combined that data for a third.




Looking at nearly a million posts that contained at least 500 words, their analysis revealed that about 20 medical conditions were predictable through the Facebook posts alone. While the posts were more accurate in predicting medical conditions than just using demographics, combining both yielded even more accuracy.

What the words in your posts say about your health

The researchers were looking for markers of 21 medical conditions, like depression, anxiety, digestive problems, pregnancy, obesity and diabetes.

What they found is that some conditions were easier to predict than others. For example, “pain,” “hurt,” “crying,” “tears,” “head” and “stomach” were linked to anxiety and depression, while words like “drink” and “bottle” were indicative of alcohol abuse.

For those participants who most often posted status updates using words like “God” or “pray,” researchers found that they were 15 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. People who tend to be more hostile in their posts were associated with drug abuse and psychoses. Click or tap here to read the paper published in PLOS ONE.

Again, this was an opt-in study and researchers acknowledged questions about data and privacy. Still, this should serve as an eye-opener about the amount of personal information you share on social media. And for now, it’s still primarily just Facebook and advertisers watching your every move on the platform — not your doctor.

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