WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2016

UCLA study finds social media may help increase HIV prevention

A study conducted by researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles found that social media and online networks may increase healthy behaviors among men at risk of HIV infection.

The study was published in the September 3 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. It observed that an online community could enhance people's HIV prevention methods regarding sexual encounters.

"We found similar effects for general health and well-being," Sean D. Young, lead investigator of the study and assistant professor at UCLA, said. "Because our approach combines behavioral psychology with social technologies, these methods might be used to change health behaviors across a variety of diseases."

Young said previous studies also found general preventative measures against all STDs were taken when participants were engaged through social media and online communities. This study took 112 men who have sex with other men, from different ethnicities, and assigned them to either a general health community (control group) or an HIV intervention group.

Each participant was assigned two "peer leaders," who communicated with the participants by posting on their Facebook walls, sending messaging and engaging in chats. The HIV group discussed HIV prevention and testing and the control group discussed general health, such as exercise and dieting; both groups were offered HIV home-based testing kits.

Although the men were at no obligation to communicate with the peer leaders, the participants were all highly engaged over the course of the 12-week-study. The study found that those in the HIV intervention group became more engaged and showed a higher change in HIV prevention practices.

The study also found that the rates of changed behavior were highest among the most at-risk populations: African American and Latino men who have sex with men. More research must be done to see which methods are effective for other conditions and to monitor the best social media practices.

"We have created a potential paradigm for health behavior change using new social technologies," Young said. "We are beginning to explore this approach in other areas."