Can Health 2.0 Address Critical Healthcare Challenges? Insights from the Case of How Online Social Networks Can Assist in Combatting the Obesity Epidemic
AbstractOne of the serious concerns in healthcare in this 21st century is obesity. While the causes of obesity are multifaceted, social networks have been identified as one of the most important dimensions of people's social environment that may influence the adoption of many behaviours, including health-promoting behaviours. In this article, we examine the possibility of harnessing the appeal of online social networks to address the obesity epidemic currently plaguing society. Specifically, a design science research methodology is adopted to design, implement and test the Health 2.0 application called “Calorie Cruncher”. The application is designed specifically to explore the influence of online social networks on individual’s health-related behaviour. In this regard, pilot data collected based on qualitative interviews indicate that online social networks may influence health-related behaviours in several ways. Firstly, they can influence people’s norms and value system that have an impact on their health-related behaviours. Secondly, social control and pressure of social connections may also shape health-related behaviours, and operate implicitly when people make food selection decisions. Thirdly, social relationships may provide emotional support. Our study has implications for research and practice. From a theoretical perspective, the article inductively identifies three factors that influence specific types of health outcomes in the context of obesity. From a practical perspective, the study underscores the benefits of adopting a design science methodology to design and implement a technology solution for a healthcare issue as well as the key role for online social media to assist with health and wellness management and maintenance.
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