Weight loss social support in 140 characters or less: use of an online social network in a remotely delivered weight loss intervention

ABSTRACT

Little is known about how online social networking can help enhance weight loss. To examine the types of online social support utilized in a behavioral weight loss intervention and relationship of posting and weight loss. A sub-analysis of the content and number of posts to Twitter among participants (n = 47) randomized to a mobile, social network arm as part of a 6-month trial among overweight adults, examining weight loss, use of Twitter, and type of social support (informational, tangible assistance, esteem, network, and emotional support). A number of Twitter posts were related to % weight loss at 6 months (p < 0.001). Initial reported weight loss predicted engagement with Twitter (p < 0.01) but prior Twitter use or initial Twitter engagement did not. Most Twitter posts (total posts n = 2,630) were Informational support (n = 1,981; 75 %), with the predominant subtype of Teaching (n = 1,632; 62 %), mainly in the form of a status update (n = 1,319). Engagement with Twitter was related to weight loss and participants mainly used Twitter to provide Information support to one another through status updates.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Alaina Boyle, Jordan Wong, and Megan McMullins for their assistance with coding the messages in the study. In addition, the authors thank the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center Population Sciences Award and the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Center (NIHM 5-T32-MH75854-05) for providing funding for this research.

Conflicts of interest

The authors have no financial disclosures.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gabrielle M Turner-McGrievy PhD, MS, RD.

Additional information

This trial was registered on ClinicalTrials.gov.

Clinical Trials Registration ID: NCT01139255.

Implications

Practice: As part of a behavior weight loss program, engagement in a social network, such as Twitter, mainly provides informational social support, which may assist with weight loss.

Policy: Before investing in making extensive online social networks as part of remotely delivered weight loss programs, resources should be devoted to exploring who benefits from these social networks and how to engage people more effectively.

Research: Research is needed to explore how to engage users in online social networks, or provide them with alternate methods of support, during remotely delivered behavioral weight loss interventions.

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Turner-McGrievy, G.M., Tate, D.F. Weight loss social support in 140 characters or less: use of an online social network in a remotely delivered weight loss intervention. Behav. Med. Pract. Policy Res. 3, 287–294 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13142-012-0183-y

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KEYWORDS

  • Social support
  • Weight loss
  • Social media
  • eHealth
  • Mobile health