A study from Temple University showed that social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, could help college students shed some pounds and promote weight loss behavior. According to the January 2013 issue of Obesity, about 31 to 35 percent of the American college student population are overweight or obese. Researchers found that among the 52 students, who were mostly women, those who used the Facebook Plus app had a significantly greater weight loss than those who used Facebook or Waiting List during the eight-week study. The first group lost an average of 2.4 kilograms (± 2.5 kg) while the Facebook and Waiting List groups lost an average of 0.63 kg ( ± 2.4 kg) and 0.24 kg ( ± 2.6 kg), respectively. It may appear that social media is already being accepted and integrated among college students to support those with weight loss goals. While similar studies has been conducted and showed similar results, this was the first study among college-aged students.
One reason why social media could help people with weight loss is because of personal accountability when they post online that they are going to a gym or go for a run. Michael Mantell, Ph.D., Senior Fitness Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for American Council of Exercise, stated in an interview by Daniel Green that people like to “motivate themselves and garner social attention” and to motivate others to a healthier lifestyle. Talking about exercise and sharing their passion could keep them on track of their health and fitness goals.
However, social media could backfire on motivation and might turn off some people, such as narcissistic posts or glamor shots. A better way to post personal fitness comments is to provide some details of the workout, such as specific exercises and purpose of the training, Mantell suggests.
While the Temple University study showed some promising evidence that college students who used Facebook and other social media venues could promote weight loss behavior and the amount of weight dropped, a recent Canadian review may disagree. A systematic review of 22 studies on social media’s impact on weight loss that was published in BMJ Open found that there was a tendency of low levels of participation in social media interventions among the subjects who were most middle-aged Caucasian women of mid- to high socioeconomic status. All the available studies showed a decrease of online program usage throughout the intervention period. Researchers found no significant differences of weight or change of physical activity. However, fives studies showed “a significant decrease in dietary fat consumption with social media.”
Despite the rigorous review, it was limited by how the studies were conducted, such as allocation concealment and blinding of participants, poor methods of reporting for sequence generation, and the outcome assessment by the studies’ researchers. Because social media is constantly changing, it was difficult for the researchers to keep the interventions consistent, according to the review. Even though current research show little support for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media means to promote weight loss behavior, chatting with friends online or sharing workout ideas could still provide support for most college students.
By Nick Ng