Study: Socializing on SparkPeople Helps with Weight Loss


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  87 comments   :  26,962 Views

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The gallery of Success Stories, piles of media clips and endless stream of thank-you message from members who have reached their goals and changed their lives forever are all proof that SparkPeople's program works. But now, a second study led by researchers at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston bolsters what our experts and millions of members already knew: No Spark man (or woman) is an island, and the support provided by our community is invaluable.

Dr. Kevin O. Hwang, lead researcher and assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, surveyed 193 members, conducted interviews and analyzed selected posts on the Message Boards.

Hwang also led a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Medicine that determined that members can trust the weight-loss advice they receive from other members on our Message Boards.

The new study, published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics, set out to describe the social support provided to members and concluded:

"This Internet weight loss community plays a prominent role in participants’ weight loss efforts. Social support within Internet weight loss communities merits further evaluation as a weight loss resource for clinicians to recommend to patients. Understanding these communities could improve how health professionals evaluate, build, harness, and manipulate social support for weight loss."

Researchers said: "By providing a venue for social support, [SparkPeople] functions as a valuable weight loss resource for active participants." They recommend that health-care providers "refer patients to sustainable social support resources such as"

In interviews, researchers asked members about their experiences with SparkPeople, what they valued most about SparkPeople, how other members have helped them with their weight loss, and how the interactions with SparkPeople members differed from those with people in their everyday lives.

Survey respondents reported that SparkPeople members were "available, responsive to questioning, empathetic and welcoming." Not just making idle conversation, members said they get encouragement and motivation from their SparkFriends, they share common experiences, recognize each other's success and hold each other accountable. They also get a good dose of friendly competition.

The researchers already knew that in-person support from peers is beneficial to those trying to lose weight. They also knew that Internet communities allowed people with similar health issues and lifestyles to interact online. But the extent to which those two could be combined wasn't known.

The new study taught them that here at SparkPeople, the online support members find on the Message Boards and in Teams plays a "prominent role" in their weight-loss efforts. The support is convenient and motivational, and members reported that the support not only helps them cope with being overweight, but it also helps them lose more weight than if they were going it alone.

  • More than 60% of participants said SparkPeople members are more helpful than other people in their lives, with regard to their weight loss efforts.
  • About 86% said they can get quick responses to questions using SparkPeople Message Boards or forums.
  • More than 90% said their SparkPeople community is readily available to them.
  • And while 92% said they feel like a group, they don't feel pressured to form relationships; more than half said they ask questions "anonymously" (meaning to the Community rather than to a specific person).
Here are some of the participants' responses:

“I can share good news and get great responses. In my daily interactions with people face to face, diet and exercise discussions are often met with screwed up faces and jealousy, or flat out disdain for my commitment.”

“They’re like a family. No one tears you down or believes your statements/questions are dumb. They’re better than family, actually. A great support group.”

“It’s encouraging to just talk with others who need to lose weight also and know how difficult it can be especially when the people around you don’t have the same weight issues.”

Action Sparked:

Get involved in the Community, even if you're just "lurking" on the Message Boards (reading but not responding) or asking questions on a Message Board. If your weight loss goal has reached a plateau or you need extra motivation, try one of the following:
  • read messages from others
  • post a message to start a discussion
  • reply to a Message Board post
  • read someone else's SparkPage or blog
  • post a message on a SparkPage or blog
  • read messages on your SparkPage or blog
  • send a SparkMail
Need help getting started in the Community? Start here:

VIDEO: An Overview of the SparkPeople Community

A Beginner's Guide to the SparkPeople Message Boards

A Guide to Posting in SparkTeams & Message Boards

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  • 87
    Staying on contact with spark friends has helped motivate me in my weight loss journey. This contact has kept me from back sliding when I plateaued. Thanks spark friends. - 8/21/2017   9:05:40 AM
  • 86
    I agree with this completely. It has helped me alot. - 8/21/2017   6:09:20 AM
  • 85
    Great thanks! - 4/14/2017   7:52:37 AM
  • 84
    More fun if you have friends. - 4/12/2017   6:30:21 AM
  • 83
    You can't go through life alone, so you might as well find a friend to walk this journey with you. - 4/2/2017   4:22:25 PM
  • 82
    I would like to see a study based on actual weight lost and socializing, not just preceptions of members. In my time here I have been on teams that focus very little on weight loss mostly on socialization, if you look at members pages you find they have been here for years but are still far far from any goal. I checked pages of one such team and only 1 person out of 10 had accually posted a goal and lost weight. - 3/22/2017   11:03:51 AM
  • 81
    Awesome, Great, Very Helpful, and Excellent! I weighed 230 lbs. I now weigh, last I checked, 191 lbs. So Spark People works! Have a Wonderful &
    Blessed Wednesday! - 3/15/2017   12:11:20 PM
  • 80
    I have gone on line and lost weight. Like any weight loss, you have to stick to it and don't cheat yourself. - 3/14/2017   10:34:30 PM
  • 79
    Great news. - 3/14/2017   10:14:15 PM
    Very helpful - 3/14/2017   9:09:21 PM
  • 77
    Everyone has been so helpful and have truly helped me on my way to reaching my goal weight. - 3/14/2017   6:44:54 PM
  • 76
    Lots of wisdom in these words. I only wish that 'women' hadn't been put in parentheses in the first paragraph. Won't you agree it's time women stand equal and not in parentheses:) An easy fix would have been to write 'men and women' or even 'Spark Persons'. - 3/14/2017   5:45:53 PM
  • 75
    always helpful. - 3/14/2017   5:12:02 PM
  • 74
    VERY HELPFUL - 3/14/2017   4:13:54 PM
  • 73
    I have enjoyed being on Sparkpeople since 2007 and I have lost gained and maintained since joining. It's great having the comardie from others who know that gaining weight is a lifestyle change......I was so excited to find this site and still come here almost everyday since. - 3/14/2017   3:50:31 PM
  • 72
    IT is very helpful to stay connected with like minded people on the journey for a healthier lifestyle. You get support in the good, the bad and even the ugly times! You get by with a little help from your Spark Friends! - 3/14/2017   9:46:40 AM
  • 71
    Online is a modern benefit! Take advantage! - 3/14/2017   7:27:05 AM
  • 70
    It's a great way to lose weight. - 3/14/2017   2:44:22 AM
  • 69
    The article is dated 3/13/17, but all but nearly all the comments are from many years ago. Which is it? - 3/13/2017   4:53:19 PM
  • 68
    the socializing part is one of the things I LOVE most about SP! - 3/6/2017   12:53:11 PM
  • 67
    Sparkpeople are positive and stay on topic!! THANK YOU! - 1/5/2010   9:28:08 PM
  • 66
    In addition to the great tracking mechanisms on the website, it's the crazy little SparkPoints that really get me going!!! I love to see a new trophy pop up, and I find that I spend a lot of time on areas of the site that I would not otherwise check, just because I earn a point for doing it! And then, of course, it always great and I keep coming back for more! Way to go on the design here! - 12/29/2009   3:19:39 PM
  • 65
    I would be interested to see the published results of this study and whether or not it is based entirely on survey data. While the subjective opinions of members are important, I would love to see a positive correlation between social support networks like SP and actual pounds lost. I believe such a study would yield positive results and increase the likelihood that more people would turn to places like SP. In my heart I truly feel it is a place like no other, and I would love that feeling to be translated into a body of scientific evidence that will influence the recommendations of doctors, scientists and weight-loss experts who hope to help combat the problem of obesity. - 12/27/2009   12:12:05 PM
  • 64
    I love the online support system! I am a member of Tops and we meet every Tuesday night for weigh in. I think by blogging and putting it out there.. I get so much support! - 12/26/2009   10:35:55 PM
  • 63
    Sparkpeople is a wonderful aid to anyone who needs support and motivation. I do alot of reading on the site and in 2010 one of my goals is to become more active in the community part of the site. I believe that by becoming active on the site that I am more likely to succeed. - 12/26/2009   9:15:37 PM
  • 62
  • 61
    The message boards really are great. What impresses me most is that there's very, very little of all the trouble that usually turns up in internet forums: people getting personal, flame wars, religious missionaries spamming threads, bickering... it usually turns up in forums but it's almost non-existant here. I think that (and the huge amount of resources we have access to here!) is one of the things that makes this site so supportive.

    (Also, and forgive me for mentioning it: " no spark man (or woman) "

    Interesting how people think. This site has, going by user names and icons, at least 75% women. But it's "man" first and "or woman" as an aftertought. And now this sounds like I was hating men or something like that - I don't! Just... things like that catch my eye.) - 12/22/2009   2:27:29 PM
  • 60
    I'm so glad I had discovered Sparkpeople in Nov 2006, Yes I had lost alot of weight before SparkPeople BUT I believe it is this website & the knowledge along with all the Beautiful people here who have kept me on track & YES I have lost more weight & I have kept it OFF!!!! Also being able to help others do as I did!!Thanks to SPARKPEOPLE!!!! WOOHOO!!! - 12/22/2009   1:07:31 PM
  • 59
    Spark People is the home you can always come to. - 12/22/2009   10:30:21 AM
  • 58
    The aspect of the Community that has been the greatest help to me is the overall positivity of the entire site. The majority of the members are supportive and always have a postitive spin on just about everything! The articles, blogs, and challenges have helped me to see my new attempts at a new lifestyle in whole different light. - 12/22/2009   10:29:12 AM
  • 57

    ~ Why Sparks is Working for me ~

    I love Spark People. It has changed my focus from a punitive weight loss approach to balancing my nutrient needs..

    I'm a gamer Geek, and we tend to be a heavy lot. I'm able to crunch and calculate numbers with the food tracker; which appeals to my inner geek. It's one thing to know nutrition, and an entirely different matter to see exactly what you are attaining from each meal. It becomes a daily goal to get a good balance, and I get the feelings of success and accomplishment whenever they come close to being dead on. This becomes a game of numbers, rather than punishment for having gotten fat. The challenge is in the calculations rather than my willpower. This makes me feel in control.

    To make the game more challenging, I don't think of it when I go grocery shopping. I pick up what I want, and the task becomes sorting out the foods I bought into a daily mixture of health without overdoing one nutrient at the cost of another. - 12/22/2009   8:38:07 AM
  • 56
    I am so thankful I found Spark or Spark found me afterseeing a segment on Good Morning America last year. I couldn't be successful with out Spark. - 12/22/2009   7:38:54 AM
    SparkPeople has really changed the way I look at getting healthy. There is so much support and information.
    Charlotte - 12/19/2009   11:06:50 PM
  • 54
    I have no doubt that if this were researched further, Sparkpeople would be found to be one of the most effective tools for weightloss. If I'm discouraged, all I have to do is log on to one of my sparkteams or go to the community and see where people are progressing to their goals. If I have questions, I get good answers that I can use and are effective. And this program allows people to individualize their method of weightloss. Does it get any better? I don't think so. - 12/19/2009   5:10:00 PM
    I agree 100%. I have found that SP is the ONLY place you can talk about your weight loss goals and triumphs or failures without boring or angering someone. I finally have a place to be real about this. Of course, I knew this before the study. ;-) - 12/19/2009   3:27:22 PM
  • 52
    So far I have had the articles and e-mails of advice very handy. I started collecting a notebook of information and have about filled it and will be starting a new notebook soon. I plan to take the information I have already learned and create a 3-ring binder to organize my information for handy dandy information. I know I can save all the artilces I read, and I do, but I need that hard copy that i carry with me between home and work. I also like blogging. I have added a few friends from this and have received some great encouraging words!! :) - 12/19/2009   1:53:54 PM
  • 51
    I work for a Hospital in Marketing, and I recently passed out a lot of info about Spark People at our Employee wellness day. I'm hoping some physicians picked up the info to pass onto their patients. Spark People is SO valuable for so many reasons, and honestly, the support system I have made here for weight loss (and everything else under the sun!) is far better for me than any I have non-virtually. - 12/19/2009   1:28:43 PM
    Since my first week here on SP and I've had MORE people comment on my questions and in my blogs that have been so helpful. Its also nice to know that even though there are people who doen't even know you ...they take time to cheer you on you way to a healthier lifestyle.

    a great "BIG THANKS" to everyone here on SP! - 12/19/2009   7:45:05 AM
  • _MAOMAO_
    Isn't it grand when Research confirms what so many folks here already know? - 12/18/2009   9:05:56 PM
    Sparkpeople give a lot of info and the chance to help and be helped by others - 12/18/2009   4:34:57 PM
  • 47
    SO cool that they did a study on Spark and how it helps people! I know my weight loss journey would have been much more solitary and boring if it weren't for this Web site. I can't thank SP enough. :) - 12/18/2009   2:10:39 PM
  • 46
    I love SkarkPeople - 12/18/2009   1:52:46 PM
  • 45
    “They’re like a family. No one tears you down or believes your statements/questions are dumb. They’re better than family, actually. A great support group.”

    -This is exactly why I am here. - 12/18/2009   1:38:19 PM
  • 44
    I know that I couldn't do this without the support of my Spark friends. When I welcome new people or interact with people who are struggling, I always tell them to participate in the community, make a Spark page, get on the message boards, etc.
    The interaction I get here is much better than I get from anyone in person. Thanks to Spark, my life is finally truly changing in all the right ways. - 12/18/2009   1:27:17 PM
    SP is whole wrap-around package. There are so many different features that people can pick and mix from to develop individual programmes. The site encourages so much gratitude and loyalty that it's hard to resist getting involved and to try to give something back. - 12/18/2009   1:04:39 PM
    I have done most of the weight loss programs out there and you can lose weight with all of them but it has been here that I am learning about good health habits and the habits that really create long term weight loss success. The support here at Sparks is better than any of those other programs including WW which is considered a standard these days.

    Ada - 12/18/2009   1:00:16 PM
  • 41
    I am so thankful for finding Spark People! There is always someone on here to talk to. I do not get continuous support anywhere else in my personal life. I love the blogs, daily spark, polls, quizes and my favorite...the nutrition tracker! I honestly do not use the fitness tracker, though I would like to but one thing at a time! Right now it's focusing on eating better and getting active! In time the tracking of the fitness will come!! Thank you to all of you that are here to help support one another and track your own goals! May 2010 be a healthier, more active year for all of us! - 12/18/2009   12:09:16 PM
    As of this morning I am at the lowest weight of my adult life. I've had some success with weight loss in the past, but this time I know I'll be able to keep it off. This is because I came back to Spark in July 2009, and my wonderful Spark Friends have helped me establish healthy habits that I know will last. Thank you SP!! - 12/18/2009   8:58:01 AM
  • 38
    I am not surprised that online ksupport works, and probably better than in person for the simple reason that it provides both a more focused and less potentially biased structure with a common goal, even with many coming in initially thinking to lose weight and look focuses on and educates our growing awareness that LIFESTYLE change is the only viable way in which to make fundamental changes and that goes far beyond single-minded efforts to a more holistic vision and effort needed for change to happen. In that respect, I think sparkpeople has become and continues to be a very important vehicle that is leading us, pro-actively, as a community, globally and nationally, to effect through mutual empowerment based on understanding and education, the changes this world needs in its food industries, economy, social structures, etc. You know it, SparkPeople! :) - 12/18/2009   8:54:51 AM

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