Can Online Communities Help Reduce Obesity?

by Olivia Rainford

Sometimes social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are blamed for increasing isolation, encouraging people to spend more time interacting with their computer or phone than with people in the real world.

But they also make it possible to interact with potentially millions of other people with the same concern and receive support and advice.  Social media – and even more its sister platform ‘online community’ – can also bring people together who would never otherwise meet, to chat and discuss common interests or issues and perhaps eventually organise a meeting in ‘the real world’.

Currently one of the most popular health issues online is weight loss. One of the most common reasons given for failure is the lack of on-going support when the going gets tough. With the internet, it’s possible to instantly connect with someone in an online community, on a forum or via social media who also wants to lose weight, commit to the same goal and then offer each other motivation and support. Perhaps it’s an online chat about progress or the sharing of ideas and tips, or it may even be an agreement to train together.

Specific forums related to weight loss have tens of thousands of members, many of whom post regularly – sometimes to share tips and tricks and experiences and in equal measure to bemoan how tough it is and confess their dietary transgressions in a non-judgemental space. Support from friends and family can be fraught, especially if those closest to us are tired of hearing about a new resolution only to see it fail within weeks or months, sometimes days.

It is also hard for loved ones to frame their support in a way that doesn’t sound judgemental – there is often already sensitivity to comments that may have been said in jest and taken to heart by the dieter, or a history of failure and the feeling of once more disappointing their loved ones.

The value of exchanging concerns with anonymous fellow travellers can’t be underestimated.

There is always someone, somewhere in the world awake and online the forums no matter what the time of day, with a friendly ear and supportive word.  Suddenly we are not alone and our problems don’t seem so overwhelming.  There are people out there who understand what we are going through, they sympathize, empathize and ultimately are rooting for our success.