An interdisciplinary group of U-M researchers turned to Twitter to see whether online discussions about food can help inform policy makers. They used community-based surveys to gather demographic and health-related behavior information that might help explain health status and disparities between groups, and whether there were differences between how groups of residents of a given region discussed food.
Their analysis began by scoring different food-related keywords, including types of foods, modes of preparation, and popular restaurants based on their healthiness. Next, using Twitter’s API, the group gathered geo-tagged tweets from more than 1,200 census tracts around the Detroit area.
“Social determinants of health, such as neighborhood walkability, mentions of food deserts, safety concerns — these kinds of references show up in tweets,” says V.G. Vinod Vydiswaran, assistant professor at the Medical School and the School of Information, who was lead author on the study.