Study: Tweet your way to weight loss

Those in USC study lost more if they had support via Twitter

jholleman@thestate.comJanuary 14, 2013 

The simple formula for losing weight: Eat less, exercise more and ... tweet away?

People participating in a study by researchers at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Medicine lost more weight if they used the popular social media Twitter frequently to communicate with other participants.

The study utilized technology to encourage weight loss. Podcasts with tips on nutrition, exercise and goal-setting were sent to participants’ mobile devices. Additional diet and activity monitoring apps were sent to only some of the participants’ devices, along with a Twitter app.

The main trial found little difference between the two groups, in part because the people not sent the apps used similar weight-loss apps they found on their own. Both groups lost about 2.7 percent in body weight.

But those in the second group who were most active on Twitter lost more than the non-tweeters. Every 10 posts to Twitter corresponded with approximately 0.5 percent more weight loss. (It’s unclear whether participants lost weight because they tweeted more or if they tweeted more because they lost weight.)

The study, published in this week’s edition of the scholarly journal Translational Behavioral Medicine, is one of the first to examine Twitter’s impact on behavioral weight loss intervention, said USC researcher Brie Turner-McGrievy. She suspects Facebook would help as much or more.

“Traditional behavioral weight loss interventions generally provide social support through weekly, face-to-face group meetings,” she said. “While we know this is effective, it is costly and can create a high degree of burden on participants.

“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.”

Turner-McGrievy proposed the study after reading a New York Times reporter’s first-person stories about how social networks helped his weight-loss journey.

The study results were no surprise to Forest Acres resident Mary Pat Bauldauf, who used social media to boost her own diet.

“It has definitely helped me,” Bauldauf said. “When I first started my journey over two years ago, I started a blog. I did it to both document the process and to hold myself accountable.

“My nutritionist asked if she could share my blog with others, and through that, Twitter and Facebook, I came across a great group of people and resources that helped — and continue to help — me.”

She and a Charlotte man on his own diet sent each other encouraging Tweets several times a week, and a personal trainer in Washington sent her motivational Tweets. Plus, she followed many healthy eating advocates and organizations who Tweet recipes and tips regularly.

“I am a huge believer in using social media in a weight-loss journey, for support and encouragement, information and recipes, motivation and kind words to get you through the rough stuff,” Bauldauf said.

The USC study was funded by the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center Population Sciences Award and the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Center.

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