Diets are as much about exercising self-control as they are about changing eating habits, and a recent study found that social media can lower users' ability to control themselves. However, another recent study has found that social media may actually help dieters lose weight. That means that, if your New Year's resolution was to lose weight, Twitter may be your best friend. A study conducted by researchers from the University of South Carolina found that dieters could lose as much as 0.5 percent of their body weight from every ten tweets they sent out.
The study was conducted with 96 overweight and obese participants. Each was required to have a mobile device with Internet, either an iPod touch or a smart phone. One half of the group downloaded podcasts every other week containing tips about nutrition and exercise. The other half of the group had the podcasts, but also downloaded Twitter and an application that would monitor their diet. In the Twitter group, they logged onto Twitter at least twice a day and received words of encouragement from weight loss counselors.
At the end of the six-month study, both groups lost weight. However, the Twitter users lost more of it. Of course, Twitter did not help everyone, particularly those who were not engaged with the microblogging site or who did not post. The researchers also note that they are unsure about causation: did people who lost more weight initially post on Twitter more often, or did posting more often onto Twitter cause people to lose more weight?
Regardless, the study has profound dieting implications. "Traditional behavioral weight loss interventions [like Weight Watchers] 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," Gabrielle Turner-McGrievey said in a statement. "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 study was published in Translational Behavioral Medicine.