Can Twitter Help Clients Lose Weight?

by Jeff Stensland on Jan 24, 2013

If you have overweight clients who love their social media, you may want to point them in the direction of Twitter. A new study has found that Twitter use helped subjects achieve a healthy weight.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health found that Twitter use among participants in a weight loss program was linked to greater weight loss. Published in the January 13 issue of Translational Behavioral Medicine, the study also revealed that participants mainly used Twitter to provide informational support to one another through status updates.

Although researchers have used Twitter and other social networking sites to study health trends and explore how people use these sites to discuss health-related questions and topics, this study is one of the first to examine the use of Twitter as part of a behavioral weight loss intervention. "The results show that those who regularly utilized Twitter as part of a mobile weight loss program lost more weight,” said Brie Turner-McGrievy, lead researcher, of the Arnold School's department of health promotion, education and behavior.

The study followed 96 overweight and obese men and women living in a metropolitan area over a 6-month period. All 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 group (Podcast-only) or the podcast plus enhanced mobile media intervention group (Podcast + mobile).

Both groups received two 15-minute podcasts per week for 3 months (15 minutes each) and then two 5-minute podcasts per week for the remainder of the study. Podcasts included information about nutrition and exercise, goal setting and even an audio soap opera. In addition to the podcasts, the Podcast + mobile group downloaded a diet– and physical activity–monitoring app and a Twitter app to their mobile device.

The main study found that the Podcast-only and the Podcast + mobile delivery methods were both effective in producing a 2.7% decrease in body weight at 6 months, with no difference between the groups.

The current analysis sought to explore 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 with the goal of providing social support to one another as they participated in the weight loss program. They 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. Two daily messages, posted to Twitter by the weight loss counselor, reinforced content from the podcasts and encouraged discussion among participants.

Among the study's findings:

  • Over the 6-month period, there were 2,630 Twitter posts.
  • Seventy-five percent of the posts were informational, with most characterized as “teaching” posts (providing new facts or skills). One of the most frequent types of teaching posts was a status update from a participant (81% 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 offered were emotional support, through demonstrating listening (6.6%), and esteem support, through providing compliments (4.6%).
  • After 6 months, both Podcast-only and Podcast + mobile participants had achieved a 2.7% weight loss. However, those who engaged with Twitter were more successful at losing weight, with every 10 posts to Twitter corresponding to approximately a 0.5% weight loss.

A strength of the study, Turner-McGrievy said, was the researchers' ability to have an in-depth examination of the interactions that took place among a group of people who were actively receiving a behavioral weight loss program.

“Traditional behavioral weight loss interventions generally provide social support through weekly, face-to-face group meetings. While we know this is effective, it is costly and can create a high degree of burden on participants," she said. "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.”

Additional studies should be conducted to find engaging, rewarding and useful ways to provide social support for participants in remotely delivered weight loss programs, said Turner-McGrievy.

Note: This report first appeared on the University of South Carolina website. It has been lightly edited.

IDEA Fit Tips , Volume 11, Issue 2

© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Jeff Stensland IDEA Author/Presenter

0 Comments

Trending Articles

Eight Fascinating Facts About Fascia

Fascia has been enjoying the limelight in the fitness industry as one of the hottest topics in recent conference programming, workshops and ...

Nutrition Strategies for Stress and Pain Management

Stress and pain diminish quality of life for millionsofAmericansandcostbillionsin healthcare expenses and lost wages.

Cardio and Creative Core

Group fitness participants can’t seem to get enough of creative core and cardiovascular exercises. If you need innovative ideas to cha...

Wake Up Your Glutes!

It’s a sad fact of modern life that the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the body, often becomes inhibited and “turns off.” Ironically, this inhibition can be the culprit behin...

Concurrent Training Can Jeopardize Strength Gains

A lot of people do concurrent training— cardio and strength training within the same session—because it seems to achieve multiple goals at the same time. It’s also a proven fat-burne...

Sample Class: Farmhand Fitness

Several years ago, I attended an IDEA World Fitness Convention™ session led by Michol Dalcourt, director of the Institute of Motion. D...

A Back-Pain Solution

Starting with the basics. Personal trainer Jamal Younis first met 38-year-old Jessica in August 2014. Jessica, a former competitive collegia...

Playing Hurt

When Gray Cook was a high-school athlete, his coaches would comment, “That Gray Cook sure can play hurt.” He had over 20 fractures before he was 18, what with his love of football and moto...

Excessive Thoracic Kyphosis: More Than Just Bad Posture

Excessive thoracic kyphosis (ETK) is a disproportionate forward rounding or curvature of the middle and upper back, also known as the thorac...

Functional Strength Training Combinations

Functional training essentially involves moving the body through different planes of motion while working multiple muscle groups and challenging balance. This Add It Up! strategy includes an upper-bod...

Next