Does Online Connectedness Help or Hurt Weight Management Efforts?

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#OBSM April 14, 2019: Does Online Connectedness Help or Hurt Weight Management Efforts?


By Nina Crowley, PhD, RDN, LD @PsychoDietitian


As more and more technology becomes available for us to connect with others and monitor our every action, have you ever stopped to ask: just because you can, does that mean you should? If you’re a patient, should you spend your time with an online weight management program or posting daily to your favorite health-related groups?  If you’re a health care professional, what should you recommend to your patients? Let’s unpack these topics at our next #obsm chat.


An interesting study of online activity and weight change in an online weight management program showed that engagement in online social networking correlated positively with incremental weight loss at 6 months. Greater embeddedness in the network as  determined by communications on the portal--like frequency of weigh-ins, number of ”friends,” and engagement time in posts and comments--was associated with greater weight loss. This supported the researchers’ hypothesis that weight loss may spread by a process of contagion through an online social space.


Bariatric surgery has been an area with a growing volume of online social presence. While support following surgery has long been recognized and embedded in the structure of in-person support groups, up to 84% of people who are considering or who have had surgery are using online modalities like Facebook for support. Benefits expressed include interacting with other patients, giving/receiving support, exchanging experiences and accessing information. Given that most of the Facebook groups are not run or moderated by healthcare professionals, the information may not be helpful for patients. In the Koball (2017) analysis of 6800 Facebook posts on bariatric surgery groups and pages, questions asked and recommendations given most frequently were about nutritional and medical content.  Other popular types of posts included those related to progress, weight loss and functional improvements in health, and expressing support or encouragement. There was little discussion about mental health, alcohol, or other stigmatized issues that might represent an area where people need the most support.


Rather than adopting technology and more and more connectedness just because it has become available, we can help our patients determine what tech-consumption strategy would work best for their individual situation. I’d also challenge us all to explore whether the time spent on online activities that we think are helping us are actually delivering on that promise!


In our next #obsm chat, we will provide a forum for patients and health care professionals to explore the ways technology, social media, inter-connectedness, and all the different ways we monitor our health help and/or hurt our weight management efforts.


1. What are some positives to social support in online forums?


2. What are some negative aspects of social support in online forums?


3. Do you feel as if social support from online forums affects your (or your patients) mental health?


4. How reliable is medical or nutritional advice found in online forums? How can its quality be assessed?

5. What is the impact of online forums on mental health?

6. What are your go-to online support forums?
Poncela-Casasnovas, J., Spring, B., McClary, D., Moller, A. C., Mukogo, R., Pellegrini, C. A., ... & Amaral, L. A. N. (2015). Social embeddedness in an online weight management programme is linked to greater weight loss. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 12(104), 20140686. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rsif.2014.0686  
Martins, M. P., Abreu-Rodrigues, M., & Souza, J. R. (2015). The Use of the Internet by the Patient after Bariatric Surgery: Contributions and Obstacles for the Follow-Up of Multidisciplinary Monitoring. ABCD. Arquivos Brasileiros de Cirurgia Digestiva (São Paulo), 28, 46-51. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4795307/
Koball, A. M., Jester, D. J., Domoff, S. E., Kallies, K. J., Grothe, K. B., & Kothari, S. N. (2017). Examination of Bariatric Surgery Facebook Support Groups: A Content Analysis. Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28600115   



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