Aims Coping with food allergy places huge demands on young people and parents. Previous studies have indicated that food allergy has a significant impact on the health related quality of life of the child and their family (1). In-person social networks have been shown to improve health outcomes (2) implying that dynamic online social networks have potential to offer support and information.
We aimed to evaluate the content of communication on Facebook communities dedicated to food allergy in children and young people. Improved clinician awareness of such content is invaluable in understanding patient and family needs and in signposting support.
Methods Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the UK. We identified English-language Facebook communities focussing on food allergy in children and young people. The 5 largest Facebook open communities identified were evaluated to analyse the content of the last 20 postings including all wall comments. 100 posts were evaluated in total by 2 independent raters and coded using a thematic coding scheme.
Results The 5 largest Facebook communities had between 7612 and 77,900 members, all were based in the UK or USA and were charities or non-profit organisations. The main topics of discussion were allergy-friendly recipe sharing (23% of postings), information about food recall alerts (16%) and advice on managing food allergy in schools (12%). Other frequently occurring content included questions about food labelling (11%) and discussion about travelling with food allergy (9%). New research and scientific literature was also shared on the Facebook sites (7% of postings) as well as advice about Epi-Pen use (5%). None of the postings analysed contained any medically incorrect or dangerous information.
Conclusions Facebook groups are a frequently used tool by young people and families who are managing food allergy. These groups offer useful information on recipes, foods and new research and also inter-personal support and advice on every-day management of food allergy including school, travel and eating out. Clinician awareness of social media content is important in understanding family concerns and in signposting young people and parents to sources of support.
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