MONDAY, Jan. 14, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Using Twitter may help people lose weight by providing them with social support, researchers report.
A six-month study of 96 overweight and obese people found that their use of Twitter -- a popular online social networking service -- as part of a weight-loss program improved their chances of shedding excess pounds.
"The results show that those who regularly utilized Twitter as part of a mobile weight-loss program lost more weight," study leader Brie Turner-McGrievy, of the department of health promotion, education and behavior, at the Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, said in a university news release.
The study, published in the current issue of the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine, is one of the first to examine the use of Twitter as part of a behavioral weight-loss program, the study authors said.
"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," Turner-McGrievy 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."
The participants all had Internet-capable mobile devices and were divided into two groups, both of which received two 15-minute podcasts per week for three months and two five-minute mini-podcasts per week during the last three months of the study. The podcasts provided information about nutrition, exercise and goal-setting.
But in one of the groups, participants also followed each other on Twitter with the goal of providing social support to one another as they tried to lose weight. In addition, two daily messages from a weight counselor were meant to encourage discussion among these participants.
During the study, there were 2,630 Twitter posts. Seventy-five percent of those were informational, such as a participant providing details about new achievements in their effort to lose weight. Other types of posts involved emotional support.
Overall, both groups of participants lost an average of 2.7 percent of their excess weight after six months. But those who used Twitter were more successful at losing weight, and the researchers said that every 10 posts to Twitter corresponded with about a 0.5 percent weight loss.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains how to choose a safe and successful weight-loss program.