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By Samantha MurphyMashable

If trimming a few pounds is on your New Year’s resolution list, a new study suggests you should turn to Twitter.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health revealed in a report that popular social networking site Twitter can serve as a support system for those trying to lose weight.

In fact, those who participated in a weight-loss program had more overall success when they used the site to receive and share information. Not to mention every 10 posts to Twitter by the test group corresponded with about 0.5 percent weight loss, the study said.

“We wanted to find a way to provide the group support we normally deliver during a face-to-face weight-loss intervention to the online community,” Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, lead author of the study, told Mashable. “In typical face-to-face delivery methods, there is no way for someone to ask for what to order at a restaurant as they’re sitting and looking at the menu. With Twitter, we were able to do that.”

Although traditional behavioral weight loss interventions provide social support weekly, it can also be costly and time consuming.

The study–which was conducted among 96 overweight and obese men living in a metropolitan area during a six-month period–assigned participants to two groups: One that listened to only podcasts to help with weight loss and another that coupled podcasts with mobile phone use. The latter group followed each other on Twitter, providing social support to one another via status updates such as “I went to the gym today. Felt great!”

Users in the mobile group logged on to Twitter daily to read and post messages. Weight loss counselors also tweeted participants twice a day with information and words of encouragement. Overall, those who actively engaged with Twitter during the study lost more weight.

“But Twitter didn’t work for everyone in the study–some people were not engaged or posted only a few times,” Turner-McGrievy said. “When we looked at what predicted Twitter use in the study, it didn’t matter if you were a Twitter user prior to enrollment. What did matter was initial weight loss.”

Although she said the researchers aren’t sure if being initially successful led participants to post more to Twitter or if posting to Twitter led to initial weight loss. The team is also looking at Facebook to see if it provides the same support to those looking to lose weight.

“We hope to explore more in future studies about how to predict who will engage in a social network,” she said.

This article was written by Samantha Murphy and published on Mashable on January 14, 2013.

Photo by Jinsan Lee/Flickr with license permission.

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