Facebook Use Could Damage Your Health, Study Suggests

The Facebook logo. Participants in a study reported worse physical and mental health after using the social media network. Getty/ Loic Venance

The more people use Facebook, like posts, share their own links and are exposed to the carefully crafted profiles of their friends, the worse they will feel, a study suggests.

Previous investigations into the use of social media have suggested that retreating online and away from face-to-face social relationships can lead to sedentary behaviour and internet addiction.

However, a more in-depth study by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that almost every form of interaction with Facebook can lead to diminished well-being.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Holly Shakya and Nicholas Christakis said the three Facebook behaviors they measured—liking, posting, and clicking links—all led to to negative self-comparisons and made people feel worse about themselves.

Read more: Why we don't delete annoying Facebook friends

The pair expected liking other people's content to be the largest driver of decreased happiness but said overall the sheer quantity of time people spent interacting with the social media app led to the negative effects.

The results were particularly concerning for mental health. "Most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year," Shakya and Christakis wrote.

"We found consistently that both liking others' content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction," they added.

The study, published by Oxford University Press, collected three sets of data from 5,208 U.S. adults over two years and measured how their mental health, reported physical health, and body-mass index changed over time relative to their use of Facebook.

It also collected information on the subjects' real-world social interaction. While the numbers showed use of the social network led to a lessened sense of well-being, how exactly that happened was unclear. " We cannot definitively say how [it] occurs," Shakya and Christakis wrote.

The researchers concluded: "What seems quite clear ... is that online social interactions are no substitute for the real thing."