May 10, 2011

Social Media and Public Health

Jacqueline R. Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP

Social media has become an important public health tool. It is inexpensive; it reaches millions, and can positively affect behavioral change. However, for the busy pediatrician it can be hard to stay abreast of all the new and beneficial tools out there. Below are a few that I have found particularly helpful and innovative. is a website developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics to provide health information to parents. Parents can search for pediatric providers, get answers to health questions or look up health topics. It is a great resource to link to your practice’s website and to share with your parents.

Text4Baby recently celebrated its one year anniversary. It is a project of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition; the American Academy of Pediatrics is among its many partners. Text4baby provides free health information to pregnant and new mothers via free text messages. The messages coincide with a woman's due date or the baby's date of birth. Moms receive information on topics such as breastfeeding, immunizations, safe sleep, nutrition and smoking cessation. Mothers are also connected to community services. This is a great resource to refer new parents.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) recently developed a campaign to promote the Vaccine for Children’s Program (VFC). VFC is a federal program that provides free immunizations to millions of children enrolled in Medicaid or who are uninsured. The campaign promotes the program and educates parents as to how they can access vaccinations for their children.

Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a website, This site increases awareness about what programs are available across the country for uninsured children and helps parents enroll their children into affordable health insurance plans.

Lastly, the First Lady’s Let’s Move Campaign uses social media to prevent childhood obesity. The site is bringing together health care providers, parents, children and industry to find ways to promote healthy eating and physical activity.

These social media campaigns not only promote but improve the public’s health. They illustrate how the field of medicine and public health are changing. It is an exciting time to be both a pediatrician and public health professional. Personally, I like to think all pediatricians are also public health professionals and as such it behoves us to familiarize ourselves with the tools and campaigns out there and to share this information with our patients. Social media is a great tool to promote health and improve health behaviors.

To learn more about current social media campaigns and about social media in general, check out the The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website or the May issue of AAP News.