Vast majority of tweets about obesity are negative, study warns
New research, presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) to be held in Dublin (Ireland) warns that tweets about obesity are predominantly negative.
The analysis, conducted by researchers from Switzerland and the United Kingdom, also revealed that Twitter activity increases when major political events occur. These include comments about Donald Trump’s weight when he was president of the United States and the launch of an anti-obesity campaign in the United Kingdom by Boris Johnson.
Physical and mental health issues.
“Obesity can lead to serious physical, mental and social health problems, and its prevalence is increasing worldwide in people of all ages,” says the Dr. Jorge Correia, a researcher in the Division of Endocrinology.Diabetes, Nutrition and Patient Therapeutic Education of the WHO Collaborating Center at the University Hospitals of Geneva (Switzerland).
“Understanding public attitudes and perceptions of obesity is key to formulating effective health policies, prevention strategies, and treatment approaches,” he says. In this study, we have taken advantage of the wealth of information available on Twitter to explore the sentiments of the public, celebrities and other influential people and important organizations such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
It was used open source software (the Tweepy library in Python) to download obesity-related tweets from Twitter. Next, state-of-the-art AI methods were used to perform sentiment analysis and classify tweets into positive, negative, and neutral. Modeling techniques were used to identify the main topics of discussion.
25,580 tweets analyzed
A total of 25,580 tweets about obesity published between December 2019 and December 2021 were extracted and analyzed. Sentiment analysis revealed that a significantly higher percentage of tweets (72.97%) represented negative sentiments, followed by neutral (18.78%) and positive (8.25%).
Spikes in Twitter activity were associated with significant political events, such as when the speaker of the U.S. House of Reps, Nancy Pelosi, described then-President, Donald Trump, as “morbidly obese” (May 19, 2020).
A total of 1,003 tweets were posted on this topic over several days. About 94% of the tweets had negative sentiment.
Dr. Correia warns that “the negative portrayal of obesity by politicians and influential celebrities in can increase the stigma against people living with obesity, and also harm public health by spreading misinformation.”
The launch of an anti-obesity strategy in the UK on July 27, 2020, by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson drew much criticism from the public. Some 73.9% of tweets about the campaign during this peak had negative sentiments.
The 25,580 tweets included in the analysis covered 243 topics. They included childhood obesity, COVID-19 vaccination, racism and high rates of obesity among minorities, smoking, illicit substance and alcohol use among people with obesity, environmental risk factors for obesity (such as lack of green space), polycystic ovary syndrome, and surgical treatments.
The largest number of tweets were related to the topic of Covid-19 vaccination for people with obesity, followed by Nancy Pelosi’s comments about Donald Trump.
The third largest group of tweets was not made up of tweets from the public, but tweets from research teams about their work on obesity. Racism toward blacks was the fourth most tweeted topic.
In addition, negative tweets often talked about the increase in hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 among people with obesity and how people living with obesity are responsible for their weight.
The researchers say their results underscore the need to look at obesity from a holistic perspective. “We need investments in various aspects of obesity health care to achieve better health outcomes for the population. –warns Correia. This includes improving health information about obesity, raising awareness and reducing stigmatization, and developing effective interventions.”
“Campaigns should be conducted on platforms such as Twitter to improve the information on obesity available to the public. This could be done with partnerships between social media platforms and public and third sector organizations,” he concludes.
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