There is a growing recognition of social media data as being useful for understanding local area patterns. In this study, we sought to utilize geotagged tweets—specifically, the frequency and type of food mentions—to understand the neighborhood food environment and the social modeling of food behavior. Additionally, we examined associations between aggregated food-related tweet characteristics and prevalent chronic health outcomes at the census tract level. We used a Twitter streaming application programming interface (API) to continuously collect ~1% random sample of public tweets in the United States. A total of 4,785,104 geotagged food tweets from 71,844 census tracts were collected from April 2015 to May 2018. We obtained census tract chronic disease outcomes from the CDC 500 Cities Project. We investigated associations between Twitter-derived food variables and chronic outcomes (obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure) using the median regression. Census tracts with higher average calories per tweet, less frequent healthy food mentions, and a higher percentage of food tweets about fast food had higher obesity and hypertension prevalence. Twitter-derived food variables were not predictive of diabetes prevalence. Food-related tweets can be leveraged to help characterize the neighborhood social and food environment, which in turn are linked with community levels of obesity and hypertension.
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