Social media has helped people all over the world to come together to discuss common interests, so it should come as no surprise that social networking can help people to lose weight.
According to recent research from the Arnold School of Health at the University of South Carolina, use of a social media site such as Facebook can be associated with a significant drop in pounds, especially during the critical maintenance period of a weight loss journey, where support from the clinical staff decreases.
Lead author Sarah B. Hales said that she found that people who are engaged with social media in the context of their weight loss do well, but that keeping people actively engaged in these programmes can be a challenge.
Sarah B. Hales and her co-authors Charis Davidson and Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy used the research to try to assess what type of posts draw the most engagement in the form of likes and responses.
According to a press release, when they looked at the source of the post, be it another participant or a counsellor who is looked to as a trusted health authority; and the if the structure of the post would spur interaction, the researchers hypothesised that the most active participants would have the most weight loss over the four month maintenance period, and that posts from the counsellors would bring in the most user interactions.
Participants were recruited for a weight loss study that included a four month follow up support period to test the effects of different plant-based diets for weight loss. Joining the Facebook group for the particular diet plan that each participant was assigned to was optional. Counsellors posted five different types of posts to each diet group each weekday for the maintenance period.
Examples of some of the post types include a brief poll asking participants, “What’s the most challenging meal for you to prepare each day? Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, or Snacks?” or sharing recipes that fell within the assigned diet.
Study counsellors then tallied the number of Facebook interactions, which included views to a post, likes, responses to posts from either another participant or a counsellor, and self-initiated posts. “The findings from the current study show that people may engage with social media more if the messages they are reading encourage them to respond in some way or provide suggestions to help others,” said Hales. The post type that garnered the highest engagement was in response to polls, with a significantly greater number of poll votes and comments by participants in response to a counsellor posting a poll, compared to the other four post types. Posts from counsellors that solicited feedback, offered suggestions, and weight-related posts also prompted the most engagement within the framework of the social media support group.
“More research should be conducted to determine what differences may exist in how support is provided via social media versus traditional methods in clinical settings,” said Hales.