Online social communities are becoming windows for learning more about the health of populations, through information about our health-related behaviors and outcomes from daily life. At the same time, just as public health data and theory has shown that aspects of the built environment can affect our health-related behaviors and outcomes, it is also possible that online social environments (e.g., posts and other attributes of our online social networks) can also shape facets of our life. Given the important role of the online environment in public health research and implications, factors which contribute to the generation of such data must be well understood. Here we study the role of the built and online social environments in the expression of dining on Instagram in Abu Dhabi; a ubiquitous social media platform, city with a vibrant dining culture, and a topic (food posts) which has been studied in relation to public health outcomes. Our study uses available data on user Instagram profiles and their Instagram networks, as well as the local food environment measured through the dining types (e.g., casual dining restaurants, food court restaurants, lounges etc.) by neighborhood. We find evidence that factors of the online social environment (profiles that post about dining versus profiles that do not post about dining) have different influences on the relationship between a user’s built environment and the social dining expression, with effects also varying by dining types in the environment and time of day. We examine the mechanism of the relationships via moderation and mediation analyses. Overall, this study provides evidence that the interplay of online and built environments depend on attributes of said environments and can also vary by time of day. We discuss implications of this synergy for precisely-targeting public health interventions, as well as on using online data for public health research.
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