Can interventions using social media help improve health?

We conducted a systematic review to assess whether health interventions using interactive social media can change people’s behaviour and improve their health.

What is social media?

Social media are computer‐based technologies that help people to share ideas, thoughts and information by building virtual networks and communities on the Internet; examples include, Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp. People who use social media can exchange ideas and share updates about their behaviours, such as becoming more active or eating more healthily. Social media networks are 'interactive': the user communicates directly with a computer, or other device, to share and receive information with other people.

What did we do to answer this question?

We searched for studies that assessed the effects of interactive social media interventions on people's health. We were interested in how interactive social media interventions affect people's:

  • health behaviours (such as smoking, drinking alcohol, breastfeeding, dieting, physical activity; seeking and using health services);
  • health (such as weight, physical fitness, lung function, asthma episodes);
  • mental health (such as measures of depression, stress, coping);
  • well‐being; and
  • whether people reported any unwanted effects related to interactive social media interventions.


What did we find?

We included 88 studies involving 871,378 adults (aged 18 years and older). Most studies (49) took place in the USA; all studies took place in either high‐income countries or upper middle‐income countries. Facebook was the most commonly used social media platform; but WeChat, Twitter, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts were also assessed.

In most studies the effects of interactive social media programmes were compared against non‐interactive programmes, including paper‐based or in‐person interventions, or no intervention. Ten studies compared two social media interventions against each another; for these studies we chose the more interactive of the two interventions as the 'interactive social media intervention’.

What are the main results of the review?

Compared with non‐interactive interventions, social media interventions:

  • may improve some health behaviours, such as increasing the number of daily steps taken, or taking part in screening tests, but may show little to no effect on other health behaviours, such as better diet or reducing tobacco use (evidence from 54 studies in 20,139 people).
  • may cause small improvements in health, such as a small increase in amount of weight lost, and a small reduction in resting heart rate (evidence from 30 studies in 4521 people).
  • may improve people's well‐being (evidence from 16 studies in 3792 people).
  • may have little to no effect on people's mental health, such as depression (evidence from 12 studies in 2070 people).
  • No studies reported any unwanted effects related to using social media.

Are there limitations of the evidence?

Yes. Overall, our confidence in the evidence is low. Many studies did not report clearly how they were conducted. In most studies, people knew whether they were taking part in an interactive intervention, and this may have affected the results of the study. Some of the studies did not report all their results, and there were wide variations in the results of some studies. Further research is likely to increase our confidence in the evidence.

Find this review on the Cochrane Library: 

Petkovic J, Duench S, Trawin J, Dewidar O, Pardo Pardo J, Simeon R, DesMeules M, Gagnon D, Hatcher Roberts J, Hossain A, Pottie K, Rader T, Tugwell P, Yoganathan M, Presseau J, Welch V. Behavioural interventions delivered through interactive social media for health behaviour change, health outcomes, and health equity in the adult population. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2021, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD012932. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012932.pub2.