The SparkPeople Blog

Study: Socializing on SparkPeople Helps with Weight Loss

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
12/17/2009 6:00 AM   :  67 comments   :  12,954 Views

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 SparkPeople.com 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 SparkPeople.com."

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

Use this study as an opportunity to Spread the Spark! If you have friends, family members or co-workers who are interested in getting healthy and changing their lives, pass this along to them (simply click on the "SHARE" button below). It's just one more piece of evidence that the SparkPeople program works. What aspect of the Community has been the greatest help to you?


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Comments

  • 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
    SPARKSPEOPLE.COM HOME IS VERY VERY GOOD. THE INFORMATION ON ANY GOOD HEALTHY SUBJECT I BELIEVE YOU GOT IT HERE...IF YOU DON'T YOU CAN GO TO THE MESSAGE BOARD AND START TYPING ABOUT WHAT YOU NEED TO LEARN ABOUT, NEED HELP WITH, OR JUST TELL YOUR GOOD/BAD NEWS ABOUT THIS OR THAT AND PEOPLE WILL COME TO SUPPORT YOU...I'VE FOUND ONLY THREE USING BAD WORDS SINCE I'VE BEEN HERE...I LIVED WITH PARENTS CUSSING, HITTING EVERY FRIDAY NIGHT OVER THE STUPID FRIDAY PAY CHECK. TO MAKE IT SHORT I CRY SO MUCH WHEN I SEE OR HEAR PEOPLE NOT GETTING ALONG..THIS IS PLACE I FEEL YOU CAN HELP PEOPLE - 12/24/2009   3:06:56 PM
  • 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
  • ITCANBEDUN
    55
    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
  • JOY_IS_LOSING
    53
    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
  • RAVENSLOFT
    50
    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_
    49
    Isn't it grand when Research confirms what so many folks here already know? - 12/18/2009   9:05:56 PM
  • GRANDMO1
    48
    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
  • 43
    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
  • HULTHEN
    42
    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.

    Thanks
    Ada - 12/18/2009   1:00:16 PM
  • 41
    I LOVE SPARKS AND USE IT TO TALK TO MY FRIEND EVERDAY..
    IT HELPS ME IF I AM HAVING A HARD DAY TO COME ON AND JUST TALK ABOUT IT .. - 12/18/2009   12:38:13 PM
  • BSTRONG13
    40
    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
  • KESTRIE
    39
    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 great.......it 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
  • 37
    I tend to be more of a "lurker" than a participant, however, I do participate some. When I first joined Spark, I didn't participate at all, and didn't stick with the plan very long. This time, with the help of some new friends and a whole lot of wonderful information, I'm approaching my one year Sparkversary!
    Thank you Spark Team! - 12/18/2009   8:27:31 AM
  • LOVESLIFE48
    36
    I totally agree. I have been on many weight loss plans, including Weight Watchers, on line and meetings, which you have to pay for. Thinking I have to pay for them will help me stick to it. No, it didn't. Here I have lost 19 pounds. I'm on this site 2 - 3 times a day. This really does work!! I LOVE SPARKPEOPLE!!!!!!! - 12/18/2009   8:07:28 AM
  • 35
    I agree! I get more support from my spark family than I do anywhere else. It helps me constantly be on alert about my health. Plus, on my down days I ask for support and NEVER have I had a negative response, only supportive ones... I Love Spark People! - 12/18/2009   7:30:38 AM
  • 34
    When I started with Spark I really didn't think I'd use the social network, but now I love it! Whenever I feel like I'm not getting anywhere or start beating up on myself for not doing better, there's always a message board or article to get me thinking and started in a new direction. It is the combination of good information and a network of help that makes Spark so wonderful. - 12/18/2009   7:21:27 AM
  • 33
    The more you are involved the easier it is to lose weight plus its a lot more fun. - 12/18/2009   7:16:15 AM
  • WHOLY_FIT_48
    32
    When I working on my actual weight loss goals, I didn't get too involved in the community aspect. I used the tracker tools and the articles, etc. But, for maintenance, I have learned that the SP community is what helps me to stay motivated to maintain. I find maintenance to be so hard that I realized I couldn't do it alone. I have made new friends in my local area and gotten together with them socially which has been a big plus. I hope to expand my involvement with the interactive community in 2010 as I work on my larger fitness goals. I LOVE SP...it is the best. It's one of the few places I feel really connected. - 12/18/2009   6:18:20 AM
  • 31
    Definitely getting hooked up with a team and being accountable with challenges and conversing with others with like problems and accomplishments has helped me tremendously. - 12/18/2009   5:57:00 AM
  • NURSERAY1
    30
    I really like this site. I met and read about some interesting people and their journeys towards optimal health. I look forward to making some solid connections as time goes on and of course some progress.Last week I referred some of my co-workers to sparklepeople.com - 12/18/2009   1:11:06 AM
  • 29
    I talk to people about sparkpeople.com every single day and I talk to someone on spark people every single day. It is simply the best community there is out here for helping you achieve your weight loss and fitness goals. - 12/18/2009   12:33:20 AM
  • KAYDEN2009
    28
    Im still pretty new but Im sure being able to share and maybe enjoy your workout and nutrition plan with other members will help keep on your goals - 12/17/2009   7:35:00 PM
  • 27
    The greatest thing I've found on spark, is the real friendships I have formed with others who share the same problems I have. I've even met one of them and vacationed together in Jamaic twice! - 12/17/2009   6:45:52 PM
  • 26
    Sparkpeople has been such a valuable asset to me. I find support, help, and encouragement here that I don't get anywhere else in my "real" life offline. I have admitted struggles on this site that I would never dream of admitting to anyone else, without fear of anyone making fun of me. I love this site and I'm so thankful that it exists and is helping me to be healthier! - 12/17/2009   6:11:31 PM
  • MALDONADO_663
    25
    I really appreicate spark people seting up this website, their is other websites like weight watchers, that charge money. I think this website is fun and you have a lot of encouragement on this website. - 12/17/2009   5:01:16 PM
  • 24
    SparkPeople has everything anybody could ask for in tools and resources for achieving a healthy life style. - 12/17/2009   4:46:40 PM
  • 23
    i agree with post #5 yatmama.... all she said. there is something on sparkpeople for everone - 12/17/2009   3:44:05 PM
  • 22
    I have been a SPARKER for 2 years and love all the friends I've made. It is sad to see SO many people give up and quit, but the ones who succeed, like WOLFKITTY, just make each day worth coming back. - 12/17/2009   1:42:17 PM
  • ARDALA
    21
    I have been a member for about two weeks and I was amazed at how everyone jumped at the opportunity to motivate me and how quickly I felt like motivating others. The shared energy is amazing!!! It truly is a spark and its so contagious! - 12/17/2009   1:29:11 PM
  • 20
    everything about spark people is so helpful. i leave the tab open 24 hrs/day on my laptop, so it's always at my fingertips to track food and exercise. my blog on my spark page is always there to listen while i hash things out with myself. others on the site are there with inspiration, tips and tricks that help me through every day. the emails that arrive in my inbox turn me to the daily spark, recipes, exercises i never thought to try before and healthy lifestyle motivation. it's amazingly powerful to know we are all doing this together at our own pace! - 12/17/2009   1:22:24 PM
  • 19
    Spark People may well be the most powerful source of good information and support in the diet world. Thank you. - 12/17/2009   12:51:24 PM
  • 18
    Support truly is the key to our success! - 12/17/2009   12:16:47 PM

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