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Sep 09, 2014 07:28 AM EDT

Social Media Can Help Obese People Lose Weight, Study

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Social networking programs have been found to be effective in helping people lose weight, according to an Imperial College London study.

The researchers said that social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook provide support to obese people in the form of clinicians and peers and encourage them to slim down.

This is the first study to examine social media approaches to obesity.

Obesity is becoming an epidemic in both developed and developing countries and risk factor for several other diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental health problems. According to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, more than one-third of the U.S. adults are obese.

For the study, the researchers analysed the results of 12 previous studies spread across the US, Europe, east Asia and Australia. These studies concentrated on the relationship between social networking services and weight loss, involving overall 1,884 participants.

Th researchers found that such programmes have attained modest, but significant results in helping participants shed weight. People who were part of the social networking services were able to reduce body mass index by a value of 0.64.

"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. 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," Health policy researcher and surgeon Dr Hutan Ashrafian, the lead author of the study at the Department of Surgery and Cancer, said in a press release.

The social networking services not only help people to lose weight, but also become more internet savvy.

The researchers said that social media use encourages patients to be pro-active and responsible for their own treatment. This strategy is not the only solution to the obesity epidemic, but can be included as a part of a therapy.

The finding is published in the journal Health Affairs.

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