People who Post About God on Facebook are More Likely to Have This Serious Medical Condition, Researchers Find

A new study suggests the use of certain words in Facebook posts can reveal important information about your health and well-being.

Collecting archival Facebook posts from 999 adult volunteers, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found the prevalence of specific terms was a better predictor of depression, anxiety, STIs, chemical dependency and other conditions than standard demographic indicators like race, age and gender.

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The use of certain key terms on Facebook can be a good indicator of conditions ranging from depression to alcoholism. Getty Images

Using words like "drink" and "bottle" was a strong indication of alcohol abuse, for example, while obscene language was linked to drug abuse.

"Social media posts are often about someone's lifestyle choices and experiences or how they're feeling," wrote lead author Raina Merchant in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

Merchant, the director of Penn Medicine's Center for Digital Health, also found that Facebook posts could predict depression three months before the diagnosis at a clinic.

In all, her team scoured nearly 950,000 updates posted between March 2009 and October 2015. They found certain terms that correlated to 21 health conditions, and were more predictive than demographic information for 10 illnesses.

Most surprisingly, participants who used the words "God" and "pray" frequently in their Facebook statuses were 15 times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes than those who rarely used those terms. Also known as adult-onset diabetes, Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body develops a resistance to insulin, leading to high blood-sugar levels. (Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, occurs when the body stops or dramatically slows insulin production.)

"It's not surprising that someone who is depressed may be posting about their mood," Merchant told MarketWatch. "But we have less knowledge of the language of, say, diabetes, so it's something we wanted to look into."

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Facebook language was a good indicator of several conditions, Merchant's study found, most notably Type 2 diabetes and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. PLOS One

Of the 999 participants, 76 percent were women, 70 percent were age 30 or younger and 71 percent were black. While African-Americans have a higher rate of Type 2 diabetes than the general population, researchers found those who used "pray" and "God" in their posts were still more likely to have Type 2 diabetes than those who did not.

"This is a population that traditionally isn't studied in early research, so we are glad to have studied this group," said Merchant.

A January 2019 report from the Pew Research Center found that religious people were less likely to engage in smoking and drinking, but numerous other studies have indicate individuals who regularly attend religious services are more like to be obese, which is closely linked with Type 2 diabetes. Researchers theorize that religious people may find food an acceptable vice. Additionally, religious life is often centered around high-calorie meals—at weddings, bar mitzvahs, wakes and other gatherings.

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While many religions have prohibitions against smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, gluttony is often viewed as an acceptable vice. Getty

"Many religions in the U.S. place priority on constraining sins such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and sexual promiscuity," wrote the authors of a 2006 study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. "Gluttony does not receive the same level of pastoral or congregational condemnation in most denominations."

More than two billion people use social media every day, and Merchant believes their posts could eventually help healthcare professionals diagnose—or even prevent—certain conditions.

"I don't foresee physicians ever looking through someone's social media. I do think, however, an interesting area for next steps is to think about how we can synthesize this information and then ask the patient if they want to share that with their physician,"

People who Post About God on Facebook are More Likely to Have This Serious Medical Condition, Researchers Find | Health