Can Social Media Help You Lose Weight?

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We are constantly bombarded with advertisements trying to sell us on products and even lifestyles for every part of our social and work lives. How much it affects you is usually personal, and while ads have become a part of our daily lives, the message that we should not give into peer pressure has become just as routine

The dangers of peer pressure have been preached through grade school, high school, college, and beyond. Surrounding yourself with friends and colleagues who are a good influence becomes an important factor from a young age, because friends mold you into who you are.

According to a new study, when it comes to getting and staying in shape, the influence of peers outweighs the influence of advertisements. A study recently conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports found a way to make social media effectively improve exercise habits.

Led by professor Damon Centola of the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the study used a controlled trial to test whether promotional advertising or social networks would better motivate a group of more than 200 individuals.

Part of the group received promotional messages from the University, including engaging motivational videos, and infographics that emphasized fitness tests and the important of fitness. The other group received no advertising, but instead was placed within a social network with six peers. Through this network, students could monitor each other’s progress and also see when other group members signed up for a particular fitness class.

Over the course of the 13 week trail, it became clear that the group giving the promotional advertising showed an initial bump in working out, but their hype then slowed, while the peer influenced group’s participation steadily rose. Participants who were placed in the social group demonstrated more motivation to exercise. As the weeks went by, the motivating effects increased, producing a growth in enrollment levels among people in peer networks.

The unique part about the social media geared group is the fact that it was based off a model developed through Centola’s previous research on online group dynamics. Instead of being an open forum for participants to speak about their workout experiences, including the good, the bad, and the ugly, the social media group in this study only gave updates on positive exercise experience.

“While promotional messaging remains one of the standard ways of encouraging healthy behavior, it is also quite expensive,” Centola said in the study. “What our results show is that you don’t necessarily need to generate new media content in order to reach people. You just have to put people into the right kind of social environment where they can interact with each other, and even anonymous social interaction will create behavior change.”

The study shows how when you become apart of a social group, even with people you may not know very well, other’s actions effect your own. Based on the study, simply knowing your peers are participating in fitness can directly effect your personal motivation.

Therefore, in order to directly effect people, the fitness industry should focus more on social media effort similar to peer pressure to promote exercise, rather than advertisements, which may be more effective at first, but will not have a long lasting effect.

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