People who want to lose weight may achieve better results if they use social media websites for support, the results of a new study suggest.
UK researchers analysed the results of 12 studies from Europe, the US, Australia and Asia, which focused on social networking services for people trying to lose weight. Almost 1,900 people were involved.
The study found that people who used these services achieved modest but significant decreases in their body mass index (BMI).
"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," commented the study's lead author, Dr Hutan Ashrafian, of Imperial College London.
He acknowledged that this type of support is not for everyone and emphasised that there can be downsides to its use, including issues surrounding privacy.
However, he believes that the use of social media to treat obesity ‘encourages patients to be more pro-active and empowers them to contribute towards their own treatment'.
"The studies we looked at were the first to investigate social media approaches to obesity. There needs to be more research into this area to see what approaches work best for which patients in light of the dramatic global adoption of social media tools and content. It's not the only solution to the obesity epidemic, but it should be introduced as an element of every country's obesity strategy," Dr Ashrafian added.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Health Affairs.