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January 2016

Harnessing Social Media for Child Health Research: Pediatric Research 2.0

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Michigan Medical School, University of Michigan Congenital Heart Center, and C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital, Ann Arbor
  • 2Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • 3Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit, Division of General Pediatrics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(1):5-6. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.2696

The term social media refers to the forms of electronic communication that enable users to create or share content with others, and these forms of electronic communication are nearly universal in the adolescent pediatric population, with more than 90% of teens 12 to 17 years of age reporting use of some form of social media.1 Facebook is still the dominant social network, but adolescents are using other channels, including Twitter, Instagram, and private messaging applications.1 With the widespread adoption of any new technology, including social media, there will likely be consequences for child health outcomes. The majority of pediatric research has focused on the potential harms (ie, a proliferation of research studies that have evaluated the adverse effects of social media on outcomes including sexting, cyberbullying, depression, and substance abuse).2,3 These represent important contributions to the literature but neglect the possible opportunities that social media bring to the research enterprise, including disease-specific investigations relevant to both pediatric generalists and subspecialists, because only a handful of pediatric studies have focused on specific medical conditions.2 The use of social media in child health research is in its infancy; we believe that social media hold great promise as a research tool to be leveraged across the entire child health research continuum, especially given that electronic resources are by far the most common media used by teens seeking health information.4 We review both the opportunities and the challenges of using social media to obtain condition-specific, patient-reported data.

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