Twitter Can Help You Lose Weight

The wonders of social media never cease: a new study by researchers at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health suggests that individuals may benefit from group weight-loss programs on Twitter, in which participants post details of their progress and encourage each other in the struggle to shed pounds.

The study, published in Translational Behavioral Medicine, followed 96 overweight and obese men and women over a six-month period. All participants had to own one of four types of Internet-capable mobile devices: an iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry or Android phone. Some participants were randomly assigned to a “podcast-only” group, others to a podcast plus “enhanced mobile media intervention” group. The podcasts included information about nutrition and exercise and goal setting, as well as an audio soap opera. Meanwhile the “podcast + mobile” group downloaded a diet and physical activity monitoring app and a Twitter app to their mobile device.

The results showed that “those who regularly utilized Twitter as part of a mobile weight loss program lost more weight,” according to lead researcher Brie Turner-McGrievy. In fact, the study found that for every ten Twitter posts, participants achieved an additional 0.5% weight loss.

In December I wrote about positive results from experimental programs trying to use social media to help prevent diabetes and obesity. In the first a social media start-up, Prevent, is bringing “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. 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.

Also in December, 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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