#Healthy Selfies: Exploration of Health Topics on Instagram. Journal Article uri icon



  • BACKGROUND: Social media provides a complementary source of information for public health surveillance. The dominate data source for this type of monitoring is the microblogging platform Twitter, which is convenient due to the free availability of public data. Less is known about the utility of other social media platforms, despite their popularity. OBJECTIVE: This work aims to characterize the health topics that are prominently discussed in the image-sharing platform Instagram, as a step toward understanding how this data might be used for public health research. METHODS: The study uses a topic modeling approach to discover topics in a dataset of 96,426 Instagram posts containing hashtags related to health. We use a polylingual topic model, initially developed for datasets in different natural languages, to model different modalities of data: hashtags, caption words, and image tags automatically extracted using a computer vision tool. RESULTS: We identified 47 health-related topics in the data (kappa=.77), covering ten broad categories: acute illness, alternative medicine, chronic illness and pain, diet, exercise, health care & medicine, mental health, musculoskeletal health and dermatology, sleep, and substance use. The most prevalent topics were related to diet (8,293/96,426; 8.6% of posts) and exercise (7,328/96,426; 7.6% of posts). CONCLUSIONS: A large and diverse set of health topics are discussed in Instagram. The extracted image tags were generally too coarse and noisy to be used for identifying posts but were in some cases accurate for identifying images relevant to studying diet and substance use. Instagram shows potential as a source of public health information, though limitations in data collection and metadata availability may limit its use in comparison to platforms like Twitter.

publication date

  • June 29, 2018

Full Author List

  • Muralidhara S; Paul MJ

Other Profiles

Additional Document Info

start page

  • e10150


  • 4


  • 2