Could Facebook have health benefits?

A new study says Facebook could help you live longer - but only if people also see their friends offline

Ireland is besotted with Facebook and other social media as much as any nation on earth but is it bad for us…or could it actually have benefits?
A new study from the University of California San Diego has claimed that using Facebook could help people to live longer – but only on one condition.

The researchers studied 12 million Facebook users and say that there may be a link between people’s online social activity and their longevity.
A new study says Facebook could help you live longer - but only if people also see their friends offline
However, that connection only applies when Facebook users have plenty of offline communication with their online friends.
William Hobbs was one of the scientists who worked on the study. He said: “Interacting online seems to be healthy when the online activity is moderate and complements interactions offline.
“It is only on the extreme end, spending a lot of time online with little evidence of being connected to people otherwise, that we see a negative association.”
The team reached their findings by trawling through six months’ worth of online interactions of participants – who were all born between 1945 and 1989.
When they compared the activity of Facebook users who were still alive to those who had died they found that in any given year, a Facebook user was 12% less likely to die than someone who doesn’t use the site.
The researchers admit there are a number of other factors they haven’t taken into account during the study such as the social or economic differences between the user and non-user groups.
Scientist James Fowler said: “Happily, for almost all Facebook users, what we found is balanced use and a lower risk of mortality.”
The study found that people who had more friends on Facebook were likely to live longer than those with fewer friends.
However, meeting your Facebook friends offline was the biggest predictor of a longer life. The researchers were able to gage how often users did this by studying photographs uploaded to their page.
The findings are consistent with many other studies that link meeting up with friends to living longer.
Fowler said: “The association between longevity and social networks was identified by Lisa Berkman in 1979 and has been replicated hundreds of times since.
“In fact, a recent meta-analysis suggests the connection may be very strong. Social relationships seem to be as predictive of lifespan as smoking, and more predictive than obesity and physical inactivity.
“We’re adding to that conversation by showing that online relationships are associated with longevity, too.”
The researchers are hoping that their findings will lead to a better understanding of the health benefits – or drawbacks – of online activity.
Perhaps this is the perfect time to get on Facebook and invite a few friends out for a meal and a drink.

Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling