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Twitter Can Help People Lose Weight

Method offers low-cost alternative to traditional behavioral weight-loss interventions (Jan. 14)

Researchers at the University of South Carolina have found that using Twitter is a valuable support system for helping people lose weight.

According to the report, published in Translational Behavioral Medicine, the use of Twitter among participants in a weight-loss program enhanced the likelihood of their success at shedding pounds. The researchers also found that participants mainly used Twitter to provide information support to one another through status updates.

The 6-month study followed 96 overweight and obese men and women living in a metropolitan area. All of the participants were required to own one of four types of internet-capable mobile devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, or an Android-based phone. The participants were randomly assigned to a podcast-only group (Podcast) or to a group using podcast plus enhanced mobile media intervention (Podcast + Mobile).

Both groups received two 15-minute podcasts per week for 3 months and two 5-minute mini-podcasts per week during the third to sixth months. The podcasts included information about nutrition and exercise, goal setting, and even an audio soap opera. In addition to the podcasts, the Podcast + Mobile group downloaded a diet and physical activity-monitoring application (app) and a Twitter app to their mobile device. The main trial found that both the Podcast and the Podcast + Mobile delivery methods produced a 2.7% decrease in body weight at 6 months, with no statistical difference between the two groups.

The new analysis sought to explore the interactions and weight-loss outcomes as related to the use of Twitter among the Podcast + Mobile group only.

Participants in the Podcast + Mobile group followed each other on Twitter with the goal of providing social support to one another as they participated in a weight-loss program. They were asked to log on daily to read and post messages so that they would receive the content delivered by a weight-loss counselor and by fellow participants. Two daily messages, posted to Twitter by the counselor, reinforced content from the podcasts and encouraged discussion among the participants.

The study’s findings include:

  • There were 2,630 Twitter posts during the 6-month study period.
  • Seventy-five percent of the posts were informational, with most characterized as teaching (providing new facts or skills). One of the most frequent types of teaching posts was a status update from a participant (81% of all teaching posts).
  • Other types of support included emotional support through demonstrating listening (6.6%) and esteem support through providing compliments (4.6%).
  • Although participants in both the Podcast and Podcast + Mobile groups achieved 2.7% weight loss at 6 months, those who engaged with Twitter were more successful in losing weight, such that every 10 posts to Twitter corresponded with weight loss of approximately 0.5%.

“Traditional behavioral weight-loss interventions generally provide social support through weekly, face-to-face group meetings. While we know this is effective, it is costly and can create a high degree of burden on participants,” said lead researcher Dr. Brie Turner-McGrievy. “Providing group support through online social networks can be a low-cost way to reach a large number of people who are interested in achieving a healthy weight.”

Source: University of South Carolina; January 14, 2013.

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