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J Med Internet Res. 2013 Nov 28;15(11):e262. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2852.

The role of social media in online weight management: systematic review.

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University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States.



Social media applications are promising adjuncts to online weight management interventions through facilitating education, engagement, and peer support. However, the precise impact of social media on weight management is unclear.


The objective of this study was to systematically describe the use and impact of social media in online weight management interventions.


PubMed, PsycINFO, EMBASE, Web of Science, and Scopus were searched for English-language studies published through March 25, 2013. Additional studies were identified by searching bibliographies of electronically retrieved articles. Randomized controlled trials of online weight management interventions that included a social media component for individuals of all ages were selected. Studies were evaluated using 2 systematic scales to assess risk of bias and study quality.


Of 517 citations identified, 20 studies met eligibility criteria. All study participants were adults. Because the included studies varied greatly in study design and reported outcomes, meta-analysis of interventions was not attempted. Although message boards and chat rooms were the most common social media component included, their effect on weight outcomes was not reported in most studies. Only one study measured the isolated effect of social media. It found greater engagement of participants, but no difference in weight-related outcomes. In all, 65% of studies were of high quality; 15% of studies were at low risk of bias.


Despite the widespread use of social media, few studies have quantified the effect of social media in online weight management interventions; thus, its impact is still unknown. Although social media may play a role in retaining and engaging participants, studies that are designed to measure its effect are needed to understand whether and how social media may meaningfully improve weight management.


Internet; obesity; overweight; social media; systematic review; weight loss

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