Social Media Can Aid In Weight Loss? Yes, Says Study

By Julio Alberto Cachila, Parent Herald October 09, 06:00 am

Weight loss has often been an issue, and many groups, such as Shape Up America, have taken the stand to help people fight against weight problems.

According to Medical Xpress, one helpful method, discovered by a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, is the use of social media. The study is published in the Journal Preventive Medicine Reports.

The researchers, led by professor Damon Centola of the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, used a website where 217 graduate students enrolled in free exercise classes offered at the University of Pennsylvania gym.

Part of the group received promotional messages from the University, which included motivational videos and infographics that emphasized the importance of exercise.

Another group, instead of receiving promotional messages, was placed into social networks with six of their peers. The peers were regularly updated of each other's fitness achievements, and were able to monitor each other's progress on the said website, although they remained anonymous. Additionally, when one signs up for a certain fitness class, the others will be notified via email.

A third group, the control group, received no follow-up during the study.

After 13 weeks, it was found that the promotional messages' motivational effects wore off quite quickly, although having caused a jump in the initial attendance. It was also found to have almost no long-term effect on class participation.

The peers, so-called program-assigned “buddies” in the study, were found to be much more effective in motivating others to exercise. Their motivating effects increased as the weeks progressed, producing a leap in exercise class enrollment levels.

The social network in the study was able to provide participants with positive exercise behavior, in the form of live updates, which gave motivation.

"We were able to use the positive signals to form a reinforcing loop that pushed everyone to exercise more," says Jingwen Zhang, an author on the study.

“You just have to put people into the right kind of social environment where they can interact with each other, and even anonymous social interaction will create behavior change," said Centola.

Christopher Wharton, an assistant professor in the nutrition program at Arizona State University, said via NPR news that the social push given through social media helps make people accountable. He is not involved in the study.

"Even though you are virtually dispersed," Wharton says, "you can sign on to those platforms multiple times a day and talk about your progress, your perceived failures, and immediately receive support from friends and other acquaintances who are connected to you."

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