Lose Weight in 140 Characters

Tweeting support helps individuals shed weight

(RxWiki News) Go ahead and tweet that post to your exercise buddy. It may just help shed unwanted pounds. Twitter usage can help people lose weight through the social networking site by supporting others in their attempts to get leaner.

In keeping track with those New Year's resolutions, tweeting status updates can help individuals keep each other accountable for getting fit and staying healthy, according to researchers.

"Tweet your weight loss progress."

The aim of the study, led by Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior at the University of South Carolina, was to see how social networking helps people lose weight.

The study included 97 overweight and obese adults ranging between 18 and 60 years of age. They were recruited through advertisements for a six-month weight loss program.

Participants had to possess a mobile device with Internet access. Those who smoked, had a history of heart attacks or strokes, had an uncontrolled thyroid problem or were pregnant or breastfeeding could not participate in the study.

Half the participants were assigned to listen to two podcasts each week or two podcasts with a 'mobile media intervention' for three to six months. Mobile media consisted of a physical activity and diet application downloaded to the device.

The podcasts covered a number of topics, including goal setting, nutrition, exercise and stories on other people's weight loss attempts.

Each person in the mobile media group was required to create a Twitter account or use a pre-existing one to read and post messages to the group.

A weight loss counselor independent of the researchers tweeted daily to reinforce messages from podcasts and start conversations between the participants.

Researchers measured participants' body weight at the start of the study and three and six months in. Participants were surveyed each week on the number of podcasts they listened to and how often they used Twitter.

Researchers saved the tweeted posts and recorded how many were posted by each participant.

Researchers found that using Twitter increased the chances of participants losing weight. Both groups lost the same percentage of weight at the three- and six-month mark.

More than 2,500 tweets were made over the six-month period. The number of posts created per person ranged between 0 to 385.

Most of the posts and responses occurred during the first three months of the study with 64 percent of the participants engaging in the social networking site and making at least one post per week during that time.

The number of people actively posting at least once per week on Twitter dropped to 28 percent during the last three months of the study.

Reporting the number of pounds dropped on Twitter predicted whether participants would post updates throughout the course of the study. Whether or not participants were already using Twitter before starting the study did not affect whether they would engage more on the site.

Most of the posts were informative and provided support to one another through status updates. Posts included compliments or showed participants that they were listening to each other.

"It is possible that as the participants felt more comfortable with one another, those two types of support (which both represent a conversation with other participants versus posting a simple status update) began to emerge more," researchers wrote in their report.

"Future research should explore how the types of social support provided via online social networking sites during a weight loss intervention change over time."

The researchers noted that most of their study's participants were white and female. Because the participants knew that their messages were being read, the results may have been skewed.

Future research should look into how people without access to Twitter and social networking can use similar programs to help with weight loss, researchers said.

The University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center Population Sciences Award and the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Center funded the study, which was published in the January 2013 issue of the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine.

The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 17, 2013