Social media channels offer new avenues for engaging young people in research, says Dr Yeshe Fenner, who is involved in a new study of young women’s health in Melbourne.


Recruiting through social media – a brave new world

Yeshe Fenner writes:

The medical and health research community is facing a major challenge as traditional methods for engaging young people in health research are growing less effective and more costly.

Young people are increasingly harder to reach via landline telephones or direct mail-out, and are far more likely to communicate through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

While there is much public debate regarding risks to young people of online interaction, those in the health professions can play an important role in exploring and leveraging the positive aspects of social media for the benefit of young people.

A recent study led by Professors John Wark from the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Suzanne Garland at the Royal Women’s Hospital targeted advertising on Facebook. This was shown to be a cost-effective new way to recruit a representative sample of young women for health and medical research.

Even young women who traditionally were harder to reach and at risk of poorer health outcomes, such as Indigenous, overseas-born, and regional/rural women, were well represented using this recruitment method.

The findings, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, introduce a promising modern solution to the challenge of recruitment facing the research community across many health disciplines.

In the contemporary world where attention spans are short, and the research dollar is being stretched further then it has gone before, pioneering cost effective methods of recruiting people for vital research are eagerly welcomed.

This team are now using this method to recruit young women into a larger study called the Young Female Health Initiative (YFHI). YFHI focuses on the ages of 16 to 25; a vital time when young women are becoming independent, undergoing transitions, and establishing life-long behavioural patterns that can shape future health trajectories.

During this period, risk of mental illness is highest, physical activity levels begin to decline, prevalence of obesity and eating disorders increases, smoking begins, binge drinking rates peak, and the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STI) is greatest.

In order to study young women’s health in greater depth and breadth than ever before, YFHI brings together a diverse cross-disciplinary team of leading clinical, population health, and information and communication technology researchers.

This large team of experts aims to investigate the interplay between a range of mental and physical health and socio-ecological factors in young women, and develop novel technology-based interventions to promote and improve health.

YFHI will kick off on 10 April with a recruitment drive inviting young women to join this important study.

• Dr Yeshe Fenner is the Project Manager of the Young Female Health Initiative. More about the study (which is funded by the NHMRC) can be found here.




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