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February 01, 2015

Study: negative tweets, heart disease linked

UPenn researchers took to Twitter to evaluate the relationship between mental and physical health in U.S. communities.

The Super Bowl has increasingly become a collective mega-event on Twitter, generating a whopping 24.9 million tweets during Seattle's blowout victory over Denver last year. 

This year, it may behoove football fans and viewers to watch what they tweet, however, and not just what they eat. As if the effect on our hearts of what we'll be eating tonight isn't toxic enough, new research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that negative tweets can be a reflection of the health of our communities, The Daily Pennsylvanian reports

RELATED STORY: Six Super Bowl Recipes for the Gluttons or the Gluten-Free

Led by psychology graduate student Johannes Eichstaedt, a team of Penn researchers collected tweets from counties around the country and, using data from the CDC, compared the tone of the tweets to the health of the communities in which the social media accounts originated. 

They were able to establish a link between a community's likelihood to develop a certain type of heart disease (gradual buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries) and the negativity of language in the tweets from those communities. Counties with a high frequency of negative language in tweets were at greater risk for heart disease than counties whose tweets expressed positive sentiments. 

The researchers compared the accuracy of the Twitter model’s predictions to other traditional models that included socioeconomic factors, demographics and other health conditions such as diabetes, smoking and hypertension and found that the Twitter model outperformed the others...

“Different models collect the same information, but Twitter layers on slivers of psychological condition,” Eichstaedt said. “The way we feel and the way we see the world affects our bodies. There are thousands and thousands of scientists looking into it."

Perhaps most unsettling is that the tweets used for analysis came largely from young people who would not currently be at risk for developing heart disease. Their emotional outlook and use of negative language on Twitter was an indicator of the health of older members of their community. 

So, we should all shudder to think about the heart health of tweeting Eagles fans' parents and grandparents. 

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