By Melony Roy

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — One of the first National Institute of Health (NIH) funded studies involving Twitter and heart health is being conducted at Penn.

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The University of Pennsylvania has received a three-year, $668,000 federal grant from the NIH to study the correlation between Twitter behavior and heart health.

Dr. David Asch, Executive Director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation, calls the study a remarkable opportunity to understand and improve health:

“We have the ability to in a sense eavesdrop on people’s communication and a tremendous amount of that communication it turns out is about health.”

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The study was led by his colleague Dr. Raina Merchant and follows up on the researched released by Penn in February that determined language used on Twitter closely predicts cardiovascular mortality at a community level.

“It just seemed like a great way to learn what people were saying, thinking, and communicating about health issues in this case heart disease and that provides an opportunity to correct misunderstandings, to learn what people are thinking about, and perhaps even in the future think about communication approaches that might even improve heart health,” Dr. Asch says.

He says “one in five people in the world today uses some form of social media and about one in five tweets tend to be about health in some way.”

He adds the key advantage of Twitter compared to Facebook is that its observable by all: “If the project is successful then we will have a better understanding about how the general public communicates about heart disease that will give us and understanding about of what they think about heart disease and new ways to help improve their understanding.”

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Heart disease is one of the leading killers of Americans today.