Social support in an Internet weight loss community.
ABSTRACT To describe social support for weight loss shared by members of a large Internet weight loss community.
We conducted a mixed-methods study with surveys (n=193) and interviews (n=13) of community members along with a content analysis of discussion forum messages (n=1924 messages). Qualitative data were analyzed for social support themes.
Survey respondents were primarily white (91.4%) and female (93.8%) with mean age 37.3 years and mean body mass index 30.9. They used forums frequently, with 56.8% reading messages, 36.1% replying to messages, and 18.5% posting messages to start a discussion related to weight loss on a daily or more frequent basis. Major social support themes were encouragement and motivation, mentioned at least once by 87.6% of survey respondents, followed by information (58.5%) and shared experiences (42.5%). Subthemes included testimonies, recognition for success, accountability, friendly competition, and humor. Members valued convenience, anonymity, and the non-judgmental interactions as unique characteristics of Internet-mediated support.
This Internet weight loss community plays a prominent role in participants' weight loss efforts. Social support within Internet weight loss communities merits further evaluation as a weight loss resource for clinicians to recommend to patients. Understanding these communities could improve how health professionals evaluate, build, harness, and manipulate social support for weight loss.