Social support in an Internet weight loss community

Department of Internal Medicine, Division of General Medicine, The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, 6410 Fannin Street, Houston, TX 77030, USA.
International Journal of Medical Informatics (Impact Factor: 2.72). 11/2009; 79(1):5-13. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2009.10.003
Source: PubMed

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.

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