Help me, I'm fat! Social support in online weight loss networks

  • Ballantine P
  • Stephenson R
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Abstract

Social networks have become an increasingly common way for people to share information and seek emotional support for issues surrounding weight loss. This study aims to explore how users of a commercial social networking site who are focussed on weight loss give and/or receive social support to/from other users. The authors use quantitative data from 145 members of the Weight Watchers Facebook page to explore how social support is both given and received, and the communication style by which this is achieved. This study reveals three groups—Passive Recipients, Active Supporters and Casual Browsers. Passive Recipients receive a high level of informational and emotional support but do so by being passive communicators. Active Supporters also receive a high level of both informational and emotional support yet are more active in their communication style. Casual Browsers receive little social support and exhibit a passive communication style. Thus, the authors find evidence that even though members of a social network may share a common interest, the way members choose to participate and interact, and the benefits they accrue by doing so differ substantially.

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