Digital and social media opportunities for dietary behaviour change.

Author(s): 
Publication Date: 
May 22, 2015

The way that people communicate, consume media and seek and receive information is changing. Forty per cent of the world's population now has an internet connection, the average global social media penetration is 39% and 1·5 billion people have internet access via mobile phone. This large-scale move in population use of digital, social and mobile media presents an unprecedented opportunity to connect with individuals on issues concerning health. The present paper aims to investigate these opportunities in relation to dietary behaviour change. Several aspects of the digital environment could support behaviour change efforts, including reach, engagement, research, segmentation, accessibility and potential to build credibility, trust, collaboration and advocacy. There are opportunities to influence behaviour online using similar techniques to traditional health promotion programmes; to positively affect health-related knowledge, skills and self-efficacy. The abundance of data on citizens' digital behaviours, whether through search behaviour, global positioning system tracking, or via demographics and interests captured through social media profiles, offer exciting opportunities for effectively targeting relevant health messages. The digital environment presents great possibilities but also great challenges. Digital communication is uncontrolled, multi-way and co-created and concerns remain in relation to inequalities, privacy, misinformation and lack of evaluation. Although web-based, social-media-based and mobile-based studies tend to show positive results for dietary behaviour change, methodologies have yet to be developed that go beyond basic evaluation criteria and move towards true measures of behaviour change. Novel approaches are necessary both in the digital promotion of behaviour change and in its measurement.