Having Financially Diverse Facebook Friends May Improve Heart Health

A new study found that having Facebook connections with people who are high economic status than you reduced the risk of cardiovascular-related deaths among those with a lower economic status.

Previous research suggests that people with a low socioeconomic status may have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease due to behavioral, social, and biological risk factors associated with economic disadvantage. However, a new study may have uncovered a way to mitigate that risk through social connections on Facebook.

New research — to be presented on March 6 at the ACC.23 Together With WCC, an Annual Scientific Session hosted by the American College of Cardiology and the World Congress of Cardiology — found that people with lower economic status who have more Facebook friendships with those of higher economic status may have a lower risk of premature death from heart disease.

The investigation is the first to use Facebook friendships as a metric to assess heart health outcomes.

To conduct the study, scientists used a new method that estimates the percentage of Facebook users in a specific region with many Facebook friends with a higher financial status than they do. However, this method only tracked friendship status and did not record the number of posts or messages between Facebook friends.

The researchers classified areas that had more connections between people with low and high economic status as having high economic connectedness, and areas where individuals had fewer connections to those of higher socioeconomic status were categorized as having low economic connectedness.

Then, the team compared premature death rates from cardiovascular disease to economic connections at a county level by analyzing over 900,000 heart disease-related deaths among people 25 to 65 years old recorded between 2018 to 2020.

After evaluating the data, the scientists found that areas with higher economic connectedness appeared to have lower premature cardiovascular disease-related death rates — regionally and nationally.

Moreover, this Facebook-related economic connectedness was estimated to explain 57% of the variability in premature death rates due to cardiovascular disease.

Although more research is needed to understand the factors that play a role in these findings, the scientists suggest that online or in-person friendships with people with higher financial status could improve heart health in individuals with a lower economic status. Reasons for this may include more awareness of healthy lifestyle habits and better access to educational or job opportunities.

In a news release, lead study author Tabitha Lobo, M.D., an internal medicine resident at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, says, "mechanisms to improve social networks could be established through youth mentorship programs, internships or school-based programs for connecting people, and these may have long-lasting effects on neighborhood characteristics with respect to cardiovascular mortality."

Although the results are encouraging, the study had some limitations. For example, the researchers could only assess people with Facebook accounts. So, whether the results would apply to the general population is unclear. Moreover, the Facebook-based method of determining economic connectedness is new and has yet to be thoroughly validated.

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