Social Media Can Help Combat Diabetes, Obesity

by , Dec 12, 2012, 1:41 PM
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One of social media’s many unexpected applications lies in what might be called “communal wellness,” in which groups of people with shared medical conditions or concerns come together to lend each other mutual support, advice, and encouragement. This week brought news that social media may be able to help prevent two related conditions whose spread in the U.S. is setting off alarm bells -- diabetes and obesity.

One social media start-up, Prevent, brings “prediabetics” together into small groups, with participants matched to each other by similar factors including age and body mass index, as well as location. Together, the participants undertake a 16-week curriculum that includes progressive exercise, diet, and behavioral regimens to lose weight and attain other diabetes prevention goals. One interesting (and integral) part of the program: a wireless scale is mailed to each participant, who weigh themselves every day and share their numbers with the group, allowing participants to monitor their own as well as each other’s progress.

The Prevent program is facilitated through an online Web site which coaches each small group through the process separately and allows them to share content via posts and comments. There is also a (human) weight loss coach who dispenses encouragement and advice to participants individually via video chat over the course of the program. According to Prevent founders Sean Duffy and Adrian James, 230 prediabetics who participated in a pilot study lost an average of 6.4% of their weight, which is enough to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Also this week, the American Heart Association released a statement noting that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can help reduce childhood obesity. The AHA pointed to the ubiquity of Internet and social media access among teens, making social media a natural way to reach this population. AHA analyzed eight different trials of interventions using social media in combination with exercise and nutrition programs, and found they demonstrated the ability to reduce weight, dietary fat, and body mass index, and increase exercise among participants.

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