Multi-Study Analysis: Social Media Tools Aid in Weight Loss

Researchers prove a link between social support and weight loss, plus a few sites to help you lose too.

American obesity rates by state.
American obesity rates by state

Many Americans may be eating better, but we still have a long way to go in combating the obesity epidemic. According to a multi-study analysis published in the journal Health Affairs and reported by PBS NewsHour, social media might be the right place to start.

Researchers at  Imperial College London conducted and audit of 12 clinical studies that employed online social networks to support a total 941 patients’ weight loss journeys. Compared to other patients in control groups, the result was a “modest, but significant” .64 percent reduction in BMI. Patients using social media tools also saw a .79 percent reduction in waist size and were 1.4 percent more likely to lose weight overall.

“The way I explain it to people is that when we look at the temperature around the world, and when we say ‘oh look, the national average temperature is going to go up by one percent,’ people say ‘well one percent isn’t a big amount of temperature change.’ But that’s the average over the whole year, so it means potentially, there will be people who will lose much more and some much less,” said researcher Dr. Hutan Ashrafian to PSB NewsHour. “Overall there is a powerful effect.”

The study recommends that more doctors and clinicians explore more social media options in the future, noting that the community-building tools are cheap and practical for both doctors and patients.

If you’re interested in trying out the benefits of social media in your own weight loss, Diet Blog provides a round-up of popular web-based forums and social communities, including many with mobile apps:

Weight Loss Wars – Allows you to compete with other members in weight loss contests and challenges similar to The Biggest Loser. Great for coworkers to do together as some fun workplace healthy interaction.
Weight Loss Buddy – Devoted to matching up weight loss buddies based on a number of criteria.
Fat Secret – Journaling, chatting, tips, recipes – can be centered around any diet.
Extra Pounds – Blogging and tracking.
SparkPeople – Popular weight-loss program with many social networking features. – Began as the “personality-type diet” – but now offers a number of ways to connect with others.
Traineo – Popular fitness site with ability to get others to motivate you.
IntroPLAY – Track exercise. Compete in exercise leagues.
FitLink – Fitness-themed with ability to find training partners.
WalkingSpree – Emphasis on walking and linking with pocket pedometer. Blogs and journals.
PeerTrainer – Many social networking features. Fitness emphasis.
WellSphere – Join groups centered around specific goals.