Facebook & Health: A Match Made in Latin America?

This post originally appeared on the Duke Global Digital Health Science Center blog. Their research study looking at the effect of Facebook in adapting healthy behaviors was one of four studies funded by SEAD last year. You can find summaries of all four studies here.

A Pro Mujer office in León, Nicaragua, December 2014
A Pro Mujer office in León, Nicaragua, December 2014

[In December], Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan, announced that they would form a new organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, through which they would donate 99% of their Facebook shares to certain causes. Among the causes listed are connecting people, building strong communities, and curing disease.

Is it possible that Facebook already does that? What if Facebook, arguably the most connected social network, helped people adopt healthy habits?

This is the question we set out to answer this past year through a SEAD grant. (Just so we’re clear, we set out to evaluate the impact of one Facebook page on roughly 2,000 employees of an organization in Latin America — not the entire Facebook platform. Ok, now that that’s out of the way…)

SEAD, or the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke, in partnership with USAID and the USAID Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), mobilizes a community of practitioners, investors, policymakers, faculty, staff, and students to identify, assess, help develop, build capacity of, and scale solutions, technologies, and business models for healthcare delivery and preventive services in developing countries around the world.

We partnered with Pro Mujer, a woman’s economic development organization, to tackle this question. Pro Mujer’s mission is

“to help women transform their own lives and those of their families through a unique and tested combination of business and empowerment training; small loans and savings; peer social support; and health care insurance and services.”

In the 25 years since it’s founding, Pro Mujer has granted more than $1 billion USD in small loans across the 5 countries in Latin America where it operates – Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru. There are 166 Pro Mujer centers today in these five countries with 2,000 field staff, 70% of whom are women. Most live in urban or periurban areas, are in their early-to-mid thirties, and are low-and-middle income. Thus, they are a generation who has been raised in a globalized environment and have experienced rapid cultural shifts that have put them at higher risk for obesity and its related chronic diseases.

Recognizing this, Pro Mujer started a health-focused Facebook page for its employees in January 2014. To date, more than 3,500 people follow the page, many of whom are Pro Mujer employees. The page, Pro Mujer Salud, is run by an employee at Pro Mujer who posts health tips, organizes competitions for their office sites as well as individual employees, and manages comments to the page. It is meant to be a trustworthy source of information about healthy eating and physical activity and to foster community across their offices, which are all over Latin America.

In this blog post series, we’ll introduce you to some of the inspiring employees at Pro Mujer, outline the evaluation and discuss methods, and I’ll post a recap of a trip I took to Nicaragua at the end of last year to conduct some data collection and attend a workshop. As we publish papers, we’ll recap them here as well.

The aims of the evaluation were:

  1. To determine the reach of the Facebook page and investigate whether there are sociodemographic and/or health‐related predictors of Facebook participation among Pro Mujer staff.
  2. To determine the effect of the Facebook Pro Mujer Salud page on perceptions of social norms around healthy habits (e.g., eating fruits and vegetables, drinking water instead of sugary drinks, and doing physical activity).
  3. To assess engagement on the page (i.e., which posts are most and least popular, which draw the most comments and likes, etc).

Stay tuned for exciting results!