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J R Soc Interface. 2015 Mar 6;12(104):20140686. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2014.0686.

Social embeddedness in an online weight management programme is linked to greater weight loss.

Author information

  • 1Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA HHMI, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
  • 2Department of Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.
  • 3Department of Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA Department of Psychology, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL 60616, USA.
  • 4Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
  • 5Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
  • 6Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA HHMI, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA Department of Physics and Astronomy, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA amaral@northwestern.edu.

Abstract

The obesity epidemic is heightening chronic disease risk globally. Online weight management (OWM) communities could potentially promote weight loss among large numbers of people at low cost. Because little is known about the impact of these online communities, we examined the relationship between individual and social network variables, and weight loss in a large, international OWM programme. We studied the online activity and weight change of 22,419 members of an OWM system during a six-month period, focusing especially on the 2033 members with at least one friend within the community. Using Heckman's sample-selection procedure to account for potential selection bias and data censoring, we found that initial body mass index, adherence to self-monitoring and social networking were significantly correlated with weight loss. Remarkably, greater embeddedness in the network was the variable with the highest statistical significance in our model for weight loss. Average per cent weight loss at six months increased in a graded manner from 4.1% for non-networked members, to 5.2% for those with a few (two to nine) friends, to 6.8% for those connected to the giant component of the network, to 8.3% for those with high social embeddedness. Social networking within an OWM community, and particularly when highly embedded, may offer a potent, scalable way to curb the obesity epidemic and other disorders that could benefit from behavioural changes.

KEYWORDS:

complex networks; modelling; obesity; weight loss

PMID:
25631561
PMCID:
PMC4345465
DOI:
10.1098/rsif.2014.0686
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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