Social networks can help dieters lose weight

Social networks can help dieters lose weight
Highlights

Dieters who make more connections in online weight-loss communities lose more weight than those who do not connect with anyone, a new study has found. Researchers at the Northwestern University show that online dieters with high social embeddedness

Washington: Dieters who make more connections in online weight-loss communities lose more weight than those who do not connect with anyone, a new study has found. Researchers at the Northwestern University show that online dieters with high social embeddedness - who logged in regularly, recorded their weigh-ins and 'friended' other members - lost more than eight per cent of their body weight in six months.

The less users interacted in the community, the less weight they lost, the study found. "Our findings suggest that people can do very well at losing weight with minimal professional help when they become centrally connected to others on the same weight loss journey," said Bonnie Spring, professor in preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The study, published in the Royal Society journal Interface, is the first to use data from an online weight management programme to investigate social network variables and show which aspects of online social connectedness most strongly promote weight loss.

Scientists found that users who did not connect with others lost about five per cent of their body weight over six months, those with a few friends (two to nine) lost almost seven per cent and those with more than ten friends lost more than seven per cent. "There is an almost Facebook-like social network system in this programme where people can friend each other and build cliques," said Luis A Nunes Amaral, senior author of the study.

"In this case, we found the larger your clique, the better your outcomes," said Amaral. Spring had access to a large dataset from CalorieKing.Com's online weight-loss community. Amaral's lab had the expertise to analyse user data and uncover trends in this complex network.

Engagement, such as recorded weigh-ins, friendship requests and online communication, was analysed. The scientists did not have access to any of the text that was exchanged between users. "We found that the frequency with which you report your weight is a good indicator of positive outcomes," Amaral said.

"If you monitor your weight, you are engaged. If you communicate online with other people you are even more engaged, and when you need support you might be able to get it. There are some nice characteristics about this social network," Amaral added.

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