While social networks are often blamed for their impact on the mental health of their users, it seems that they can nevertheless improve their physical health. At least, according to the results of a study carried out by the University of California San Francisco and recently published in the newspaper Addiction, Facebook improves by 2.5 times the chances of a user to quit smoking in comparison to smokers who simply follow a basic online program.
To arrive at this surprising conclusion, researchers paid 500 participants with an average age of 21 to participate in the Tobacco Status Project, a 90-day program. Volunteers joined private groups on Facebook to quit smoking.
They were asked to post regularly on the subject, answer various questionnaires and meet with a doctor once a week to follow his advice.
Among the participants, 45% were men, 73% were white and 87% smoked every day.
Finally, there was no need for them to absolutely want to quit smoking to be included in the study and no nicotine patches or substitutes were provided.
The researchers evaluated the volunteers at the beginning of the study and after three months, six months, and one year.
The results showed that Facebook improved by 2.5 times the chances of a user to quit smoking
Three months after the launch of the program, 8.3% of smokers had quit compared to 3.2% among those who followed basic online programs.
But if Facebook helped a lot of smokers to quit in the first few months, in the long run, however, the difference was pretty small, as those who held on to abstinence being mostly those who had been thinking about quitting for a long time before the participating in the study.
“We did something very ambitious by involving people who didn’t necessarily want to smoke to see if social networks could help,” says Danielle Ramo, author of the study.
“Sometimes people don’t get too involved on social networks. But here we saw very committed people, with Facebook users commenting a lot on the posts of the participants. Young people are very happy with this form of intervention,” she says.
Ultimately, for the scientists, the outcomes of the study also mean that Facebook, as well as other social networks, can be used as a very powerful tool in addressing smoking, even among those who do not want to quit smoking, at first.