(NaturalNews) When combined with guided interventions, the social networking site Twitter can be a powerful tool for promoting weight loss, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of South Carolina and published in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine.
The researchers found that participants who used Twitter more regularly to provide information and support to one another during the course of a weight loss program lost significantly more weight than participants who used the site less frequently.
Prior research has examined how people use social networking sites to discuss health-related topics, but few studies have examined how such sites could be used in behavioral weight loss interventions.
In the new study, researchers began by following 96 overweight and obese adults who lived in a metropolitan area over the course of six months. All participants owned an Internet-capable mobile device (either an Android-based phone, a BlackBerry, an iPhone or an iPod Touch), which they use to listen to two 15-minute podcasts per week for the first three months of the study and to two five-minute podcasts per week for the last three months. The podcasts featured information on exercise and nutrition, goal setting for weight loss, and an audio soap opera.
Some of the participants were also assigned to download an app onto their mobile devices to help them monitor their diet and physical activity, and a Twitter app, which they were asked to use each day to read and post messages for their weight loss counselor and their fellow participants. They also received two Twitterposts per day from the counselor, encouraging participant discussion and reminding participants of information from the podcasts.
The power of social support
The researchers found that in general, participants in both the "podcast only" and the "podcast plus mobile" groups lost approximately 2.7 percent of their original body weight over the study period. Among participants in the podcast plus mobile group; however, Twitter use was significantly correlated with better outcomes: for every 10 Twitter posts, participants lost another 0.5 percent of their original weight.
The researchers believe this effect can be explained by the critical role that Twitter played in helping the participants support each other's weight loss. They noted that 75 percent of the posts made during the course of the study were informational, and 81 percent of those consisted of status updates that included some sort of weight loss strategy or tip, such as "I avoided eating a pastry this morning at a breakfast meeting! I did have a skim Mocha without whipped cream ... not too bad." Another 6.6 percent of the posts provided emotional support by making it clear that another participant was being listened to, while 4.6 percent provided esteem support by complimenting another participant.
"Traditional behavioral weight loss interventions generally provide social support through weekly, face-to-face group meetings," said lead researcher 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."