Social media may kickstart weight loss
Can social media make you thin? A start-up company in New York is betting that it can.
In January 2012, DietBet rolled out a game where participants lose weight together as part of an online competition.
After hosting thousands of players, the results paint a picture that people who go about their weight loss collaboratively are far more successful in their quest to get in shape.
Here are some of the company’s findings for players in DietBet games:
- 90 per cent lose weight during the four-week social game, averaging 5.4 pounds
- Those who play the game while sharing accomplishments on Facebook are 27 per cent more successful than those who don’t
- Players who invite friends to join them are 53 per cent more successful
- Players who engage with other players (by posting comments and photos in the game) are 381 per cent more successful
- Those with fans who cheer them on are 33 per cent more successful
- Players who organize games with 10 or more participants are 52% more successful
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There is mounting evidence to suggest that being overweight is a social phenomenon, like a contagious disease, rather than a strictly individual matter.
According to Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Nicholas Christakis, your weight is affected by the people around you.
“Obesity is contagious,” writes Christakis in his book, Connected.
But while your friends make you fat, they can also make you skinny.
The social networking forces that drive weight gain can be thrown into reverse.
The New York Times reporter Brian Stelter famously lost 75 pounds in six months with his so-called Twitter Diet, where he tweeted about everything he ate.
The social support became highly motivational, not just for him, but also for his followers, many of whom lost weight with him.
Weight Watchers pioneered what could be called “social dieting” long before Twitter.
Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch started organizing group meetings in 1963 to give people struggling with their weight a chance to offer support and also hold each other accountable.
The model thrived, ad now the company hosts 20,000 meetings weekly.
“At DietBet, we’re taking that powerful combination of social accountability and support — and repackaging it in an engaging game that you can play on your computer or smartphone,” says DietBet Chief Executive Officer Jamie Rosen. “The best part: it’s working. Ninety percent lose weight, on average about a pound and a half a week. Plus, it’s actually fun.”
Unlike other diet programs, which charge subscription fees for their services, DietBet players end up paying each other for the accountability.
Players pool their money at the start of each game, which the company holds in escrow.
At the end, the money is distributed evenly to whoever reaches the goal (of losing four percent in four weeks).
The company supplies referees to validate weight loss.
“Taking your friends’ money was certainly enticing,” says Samwoo E, who has played in multiple DietBets in his office. “But what ended up being more motivational was the friendly competition among the people in my office. Nobody wanted to be the guy who didn’t hit the target.”
“Having ongoing support and accountability is hugely beneficial to losing weight,” says Brown University Warren Alpert Medical School assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior Dr. Tricia M. Leahey.
Leahey is investigating the efficacy of “peer coaching” in treating obesity in a new study.
Could social media end up powering weight loss in the future?
Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg sees social media transforming every industry.
“We believe social apps will be the best products in every business category,” says Zuckerberg. “In some categories, it may be an abrupt, disruptive, or revolutionary change, and in others, the change may be more subtle or roll out more slowly over time.”
“[We're] seeing this with media and games, and in the future we expect to see this in commerce and even finance,” adds Zuckerberg. Perhaps to that he should add weight loss.
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