A study by researchers at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health has found that using Twitter, the popular information network joining people throughout the world, is a valuable support system for helping people lose weight.
Led by Arnold School researcher Brie Turner-McGrievy, the study found that Twitter use among participants in a weight loss program enhanced the likelihood of their success at shedding pounds. Published in Translational Behavioral Medicine this week, the study also revealed that participants mainly used Twitter to provide information 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, the USC study is one of the first to examine the use of Twitter as part of a behavioral weight loss intervention, she said.
"The results show that those who regularly utilized Twitter as part of a mobile weight loss program lost more weight," said Turner-McGrievy 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 six-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 (Podcast) or podcast, plus enhanced mobile media intervention (Podcast + mobile), groups.
Both groups received two podcasts per week for three months (15 minutes each) and two mini-podcasts per week during the third to sixth months (five minutes each). The 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 application (app) and a Twitter app to their mobile device. The main trial found both the Podcast only and Podcast + mobile delivery methods to be effective in producing a 2.7 percent 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 a 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: