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UH Prof leads Facebook-funded Study on Social Media & Physical Activity of Black and LatinX Women

By Dennis Spellman

January 13, 2022

University of Houston College of Technology Asst. Professor Olivia Johnson received a $50,000 grant to study how social media can influence physical activity among young women of color.

“It's exhilarating and very nerve-wracking,” Johnson said. “The study is looking at 18- to 25-year-old Black and Latinx women.”

Black and white portrait of a Black woman with braided hair smiling.

Johnson's research focuses on the intersection of social media and connective movements, and has primarily used data from Twitter. This Facebook-funded study will move her work forward by determining if Instagram can positively influence Black and LatinX women’s adherence to physical activity. Meta, known formerly as Facebook, is the parent company that owns Instagram.

Close up of an iPhone screen with several social media icons visible.

Johnson is partnering with Langston University Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Desmond W. Delk. She believes this study will demonstrate the effectiveness of interdisciplinary collaboration in expanding knowledge by pairing a professor who studies social media with a professor who studies physical activity engagement and opportunities.

“I want tech companies to see the benefit of partnering with social scientists, emphasizing physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health as it relates to social media use,” Johnson said.

Those participating will be part of an Instagram group and post information about their daily exercise routines over four weeks. In addition, through the Instagram group, they will receive culturally relevant health tips and encouragement.

“People are receiving something emotionally or mentally from these social media spaces that are either good or bad. We want it to be positive,” Johnson said. “We want to know if we can create a space where people can be themselves, they can present themselves realistically and feel good about that experience. So, it will be a space where postings about physical activity are encouraging and culturally relevant.”

Those taking part in the study must post or react to a post three times per week. Requiring participation in a safe space will allow those conducting the study to learn if participants will find social media to be positive, encouraging, and helpful.

“We're hoping to show that social media can be a portal for positive two-way communication,” she said.

Participants' activity will be tracked electronically, from start to finish. All activities will be voluntary.

“We don't want them to do anything they don't want to do,” Johnson said. “If we can do this for physical fitness, we can do this for sexual awareness, domestic violence awareness and other health concerns.”

The study will last 12 months. Facebook will receive the results at the end of the year.

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