The information preferences of those with food allergies and food intolerances: Learning from social media
: (Alternative Format Thesis)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Social media platforms have become key tools for gaining information, but there is currently a limited evidence base as how they are used to support information exchange around health issues. Extending the work that has focused on online support groups, this thesis considered social media use in relation to an increasingly common health concern: food hypersensitivity. Four empirical studies using qualitative and quantitative methods were conducted to explore two broad objectives: 1) how and why social media users utilise platforms for managing their food hypersensitivity, and 2) how these users perceive social media information and authors of this content.

Findings demonstrated that social media was a valuable source of information and social support for those managing food hypersensitivities, and that platforms served as useful venues for discussion. An analysis of Twitter data demonstrated that organisations and individuals interact to support a cause and mobilise users on an issue. Social media support was likely to be sought post diagnosis, to support information requirements around managing food hypersensitivity. A network of users were seen to moderate information, discrediting inaccurate sources and calling for additional expertise. The Twitter infrastructure, for example, commenting, retweeting, user-tagging, and hashtag usage, facilitated moderation and mobilisation via these networks. Links within tweets increased ratings of credibility and persuasiveness, and markers of food hypersensitive expertise on social media were identified, such as evidenced posts, and connections with stakeholders and other experts. Medical professionals were taken-for-granted experts on social media, but other users could be considered expert through recognised food hypersensitive lived-experience.

Both medical professionals and organisations must engage with social media, support content moderation, and signpost patients to appropriate sources. By engaging with social media platforms, stakeholders may reduce risks associated with proliferation of erroneous information, and instead support those seeking to manage food hypersensitivity.
Date of Award7 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsFood Standards Agency & Asthma, Allergy & Inflammation Research Charity
SupervisorJulie Barnett (Supervisor), Jeffrey Gavin (Supervisor) & Jane S. Lucas (Supervisor)

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