London: Want to shed those extra pounds? Join social media! Social networking programmes designed to help people lose weight could play a role in the global fight against obesity, according to new research.
Analysis by researchers from Imperial College London combining the results of 12 previous studies shows that such programmes have achieved modest but significant results in helping participants lose weight. Obesity is an increasing issue in developed and developing countries, contributing to other diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental health problems and resulting in rising costs for health services.
Researchers considered the use of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to provide obese people with a community of support from both clinicians and peers to help them lose weight.
They compiled data from 12 studies spread across the US, Europe, east Asia and Australia which trialled social networking services for weight loss, involving 1,884 participants in total. The amalgamated results showed that people who used these services achieved a collective decrease in body mass index by a value of 0.64, which the authors describe as modest but significant.
"One advantage of using social media over other methods is that it offers the potential to be much more cost effective and practical for day-to-day use when compared to traditional approaches," Health policy researcher and surgeon Dr Hutan Ashrafian, the lead author of the study at the Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London, said. The feeling of being part of a community allows patients to draw on the support of their peers as well as clinicians.
They can get advice from their doctor without the inconvenience or cost of having to travel, and clinicians can provide advice to many patients simultaneously. "There are also possible downsides, such as potential privacy issues and a need for the patient to be internet savvy, so it may not be right for everyone," said Ashrafian. The research was published in the journal Health Affairs.