Why are Seattle Children’s researchers studying Facebook?

“You study Facebook?”

Megan Moreno, MD, MPH, often hears a surprised response like this when she describes her work researching adolescent’s use of social media at Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development. But, Moreno no longer has to tell people about her research – she can show it to them. Her team is participating in a video contest and hoping to take their work all the way to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Moreno leads the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT) in its efforts to use social media to reduce health risk behaviors and promote positive lifestyles to adolescents.

The team is currently in the third year of a four-year study funded by the NIH Common Fund, a program designed to address key roadblocks in biomedical research. To celebrate the Common Fund’s tenth anniversary, the NIH organized a video competition to encourage researchers – like Moreno – to share their work with the public.

“We have learned so much about how social media influences and represents health behaviors in the lives of teens and we want to share those discoveries with the community,” Moreno says. “When the NIH announced the competition we knew it was right up our alley.”

Moreno’s video is all about determining which adolescents are at risk for substance use. It features a detective who uses Facebook to identify teens who may be abusing drugs or alcohol.

“Many adolescents experiment with tobacco or alcohol and it remains the major cause of injury and death for an otherwise healthy population,” Moreno says. “You can’t just walk up to a teen on the street and ask if they are abusing substances. You have to look for clues where they interact with their peers — on social media.”

You can watch the SMAHRT team’s video above. The four videos that receive the most “likes” on YouTube will be selected as winners and shown at the NIH’s 10-Year Commemoration Symposium.

If her team wins, Moreno says this could be the first research award NIH has granted to a scientific study of Facebook.

“It would bring recognition to Seattle Children’s and our team for our commitment to pursuing innovative studies at the intersection of social media and adolescent health,” she says. “We would love the opportunity to go to the NIH and accept this award on behalf of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, the Center for Child Heath, Behavior and Development and our SMAHRT team!”