Social media could potentially help adults with obesity and those who are overweight change behaviors to lower body mass index (BMI) and improve other health characteristics, according to study findings published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Researchers reviewed 28 randomized controlled trials of adults with BMI measurements of at least 30 kg/m2 and between 25 kg/m2 and 29 kg/m2 from study inception through December 31, 2021. The final analysis comprised 14,806 articles from 8 databases and 1210 trials from 7 registries. Social media-based interventions involved at least 1 social media feature including online social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The programs used data sharing, activity data viewing, communication, and peer grouping social support to engage participants and help them track their activities and progress. These interventions were based on social cognitive theory, using concepts of social modeling, observational learning, verbal persuasion, and vicarious reinforcement to provide support and encouragement.

Participants received either standard care, waitlist, or placebo. Outcomes included weight (kg), BMI (kg/m2 ), weight percentage (%), waist circumference (cm), body fat mass (kg), body fat percentage (%), energy intake (kcal/d), daily steps (steps/d), and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity change (MVPA, minutes/d).

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There was a significant weight reduction of -1.45 kg (95% CI, -2.15 to -0.75) among those receiving the social media-based interventions compared with those in the comparator group (Z, -4.05; P <0.001) when using the inverse-variance method and random-effects model with small-to-medium effect size (g, -0.29; 95% CI, -0.43 to -0.14).

The pooled meta-analysis revealed a significant BMI change (Z, -3.60; P <0.001) with a mean difference of -0.65 kg/m2 (95% CI, -1.00 to -0.30), with medium effect size (g, -0.61; 95% CI, -1.15 to -0.08) favoring social media-based interventions.

Social media-based interventions showed significant differences for waist circumference (-1.96 cm; 95% CI, -3.22 to -0.70; Z, -3.06; P <0.001), body fat mass (-3.11 kg; 95% CI, -5.23 to -1.00; Z, 2.88; P <0.001), and daily steps (1510 steps/day; 95% CI, 259-2761; Z, 2.37; P =0.02). There were no significant differences observed in weight percentage, body fat percentage, energy intake, and MVPA.

The researchers observed that the combination of activity data shared and peer group communication led to positive outcomes for the patients in the studies.

Limitations of the study include the possibility of incorrectly input data or incomplete reporting.

The researchers conclude, “Our systematic review demonstrates that social media-based interventions are effective to change weight, BMI, waist circumference, fat mass and energy intake and increase daily steps among adults with obesity and overweight.”


Loh YL, Yaw QP,  Lau Y. Social media-based interventions for adults with obesity and overweight: a meta-analysis and meta-regressionInt J Obes (Lond). Published online April 3, 2023. doi:10.1038/s41366-023-01304-6

This article originally appeared on Endocrinology Advisor