Aside from keeping one updated, micro-blogging site Twitter may have a welcome side effect: helping users lose weight, a new study has suggested.
Researchers at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health said their findings showed using Twitter can help one maintain a healthy weight.
“The results show that those who regularly utilized Twitter as part of a mobile weight loss program lost more weight,” said research leader Brie Turner-McGrievy
of the Arnold School’s Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior.
While researchers have studied Twitter and networking sites to study health trends and explore how people use these sites to discuss health-related questions and topics, USC's study is one of the first to look into Twitter use as part of behavioral weight loss intervention, she added.
The study showed those who engaged with Twitter were more successful with losing weight, "such that every 10 posts to Twitter corresponded with approximately −0.5 percent weight loss."
Also, Turner-McGrievy said that while traditional behavioral weight loss interventions generally provide social support through weekly, face-to-face group meetings, this could be costly and "an create a high degree of burden on participants.”
“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,” she added.
96 overweight subjects
In the study, the researchers found Twitter use in a weight loss program enhanced the likelihood of their success at shedding unwanted pounds.
Also, the study - published in Translational Behavioral Medicine - showed participants mainly used Twitter to support each other's weight loss efforts with status updates.
Over a six-month period, the study followed 96 overweight and obese men and women in a metropolitan area.
The study participants were required to own one of four types of Internet-capable mobile devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry or an Android-based phone.
Participants were randomly assigned to either the podcast-only (Podcast) or podcast, plus enhanced mobile media intervention (Podcast + mobile), groups.
Both groups received two 15-minute podcasts per week for three months and two five-minute mini-podcasts per week during the third to sixth months.
The podcasts included information about nutrition and exercise, goal setting and even an audio soap opera.
On the other hand, the Podcast + mobile group downloaded a diet and physical activity monitoring app and a Twitter app to their mobile device.
Both the Podcast only and Podcast + mobile delivery methods were found effective in producing a 2.7-percent decrease in body weight at six months, with no difference between the groups.
The analysis explored the interactions and weight loss outcomes as related to Twitter use among the Podcast + mobile group only.
Participants in the Podcast + mobile group followed each other on Twitter to provide each other social support as they participated in a weight loss program.
The participants were asked to log on daily to read and post messages so they would receive the content delivered by a weight-loss counselor and fellow participants.
For the study, two daily messages posted to Twitter by the weight loss counselor "reinforced content from the podcasts and encouraged discussion among participants."
The study's other findings included:
- Over the six-month period, there were 2,630 Twitter posts.
- 75 percent of the posts were informational, with most characterized as teaching (providing new facts or skills).
- One of the most frequent types of teaching posts was a status update from a participant (81 percent of all teaching posts), 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.”
- Other types of support included emotional support, through demonstrating listening (6.6 percent), and esteem support, through providing compliments (4.6 percent).
- The Podcast only and Podcast + mobile participants achieved a 2.7 percent weight loss at six months. But those who engaged with Twitter were more successful with losing weight, such that every 10 posts to Twitter corresponded with approximately −0.5 percent weight loss.
Turner-McGrievy is now using Facebook to provide social support as part of a remotely-delivered weight loss intervention for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
She is also working with colleagues in USC’s computer science department to find ways to enhance engagement within social networks.
The study was funded by the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center Population Sciences Award and the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Center. — TJD, GMA News