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Facebook Knows If You're Fat

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Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 8:05 AM

click to enlarge LUCY RENDLER-KAPLAN / LA WEEKLY FLICKR POOL
  • Lucy Rendler-Kaplan / LA Weekly Flickr pool
While Facebook's stock price has taken a noticeable dive since its IPO last year (sorry, Zuckers), the company has been quietly working on slicing and dicing your data to the delight of advertisers.

They know deep stuff about you, and that's money. This week researchers at Boston Children's Hospital revealed that Facebook data can even predict if you're fat.

Don't all suck it in at once (besides, Facebook doesn't know you're doing that):

Well, we may be overselling it a little. The researchers weren't pointing out scale-tipping individuals. They did, however, look at users with certain interests, such as television, and correlated those with towns that have higher rates of obesity.

While the Boston academics didn't pin down your own largesse (or, rather, largeness), they think Facebook data could be used to pinpoint big-boned hotspots on the map:

... The conclusions suggest that knowledge of people's online interests within geographic areas may help public health researchers predict, track and map obesity rates down to the neighborhood level, while offering an opportunity to design geotargeted online interventions aimed at reducing obesity rates.

The findings hit the online journal PLOS ONE yesterday. The researchers aggregated "likes" for things that could correlate to bad eating habits and found they linked strongly to areas of the country (Kansas City, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) that had weight issues.

Pretty soon they'll be getting into your other bad habits. John Brownstein of Boston Children's Hospital's Informatics Program:

Online social networks like Facebook represent a new high-value, low-cost data stream for looking at health at a population level. The tight correlation between Facebook users' interests and obesity data suggest that this kind of social network analysis could help generate real-time estimates of obesity levels in an area, help target public health campaigns that would promote healthy behavior change, and assess the success of those campaigns.

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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