Background: Social media has emerged as a potentially powerful medium for communication with adolescents and young adults around their health choices.
Objective: The goal of this systematic review is to identify research on the use of social media for interacting with adolescents and young adults in order to achieve positive health outcomes.
Methods: A MEDLINE/PubMed electronic database search was performed between January 1, 2002 and October 1, 2013, using terms to identify peer-reviewed research in which social media and other Web 2.0 technologies were an important feature. We used a systematic approach to retrieve papers and extract relevant data.
Results: We identified 288 studies involving social media, of which 87 met criteria for inclusion; 75 studies were purely observational and 12 were interventional. The ways in which social media was leveraged by these studies included (1) observing adolescent and young adult behavior (n=77), (2) providing health information (n=13), (3) engaging the adolescent and young adult community (n=17), and (4) recruiting research participants (n=23). Common health topics addressed included high-risk sexual behaviors (n=23), alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use (n=19), Internet safety (n=8), mental health issues (n=18), medical conditions (n=11), or other specified issues (n=12). Several studies used more than one social media platform and addressed more than one health-related topic.
Conclusions: Social media technologies offer an exciting new means for engaging and communicating with adolescents and young adults; it has been successfully used to engage this age group, identify behaviors, and provide appropriate intervention and education. Nevertheless, the majority of studies to date have been preliminary and limited in their methodologies, and mostly center around evaluating how adolescents and young adults use social media and the resulting implications on their health. Although these explorations are essential, further exploration and development of these strategies into building effective interventions is necessary.
Keywords: adolescents; health; social media; social networking sites; young adults.