Motivation Articles

The More You 'Spark,' The More You'll Lose

Groundbreaking Study Shows Using SparkPeople Improves Weight-Loss Results

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Researchers have been studying what works—and what doesn't—for real, permanent weight loss for years. Various weight-loss interventions (from specialized diets to in-person support groups to educational sessions to weight-loss apps) have been analyzed, scrutinized, and reviewed in hopes of finding "the" answer to the obesity epidemic.
 
But these studies, while more scientific and controlled than weight-loss reality shows, have something common with the latter: They rarely reflect how real people lose weight in the real world. Many weight-loss studies enroll volunteers who not only know they're being studied (which can skew results) but are usually paid for their participation—and even receive free access to a variety of weight-loss tools that might otherwise be out of their reach. I don't know about you, but if I wanted to lose weight and enrolled myself in a study to do so, was paid for my time, and received free access to experts, support groups, tools and more—I'd probably be more successful. Tell me to figure it out on my own and find my own motivation to stick with it, and my results would be entirely different.
 
A recent study broke all of the old rules in weight-loss research. Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Medical School, led by researcher Kevin Hwang, M.D., M.P.H., wanted to see how well people would lose weight when they didn't get paid to do so, when they didn't know they were part of a study, and when they used a free, universally available weight-loss program on their own. The program they chose to examine was SparkPeople.com, America’s largest diet and fitness website by unique visitors, according to comScore, an Internet technology company. Yep, it's even bigger than Weight Watchers Online—but it doesn't cost members a dime.
 
Hwang and his colleagues report that this could very well be the first analysis of a natural cohort of members of a free online weight-loss community, so their findings reflect the real world. Moreover, “Because this [SparkPeople] online program is free, scalable, and widely disseminated, the potential public health impact is significant," the researchers wrote in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, which published their findings in February 2013.
 
So what did they discover?
Put simply, the more that members used and interacted with the SparkPeople website, the more weight they lost. More specifically, reporting weight changes (whether increases or decreases) and interacting within the SparkPeople Community forums were both associated with significant weight loss compared to those who did not use these tools. Additional SparkPeople tools other than the weight tracker and forums also correlated with increased weight loss in the study, but not a statistically significant amount.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • I just re-joined SparkPeople and am planning to be more active this time, especially after reading this article. Reading other people's comments from people who are going through their own challenges is motivating. - 4/4/2013 9:35:15 AM
  • I tried every kind of diet, including Weight Watchers, and was successful a few times, but as soon as I took my eye off the ball, boom, the weight came back. What I love about Sparkpeople are the trackers, especially the food part because I now know that one must eat a balanced diet including fats and carbohydrates. We have been brainwashed for years thinking if we didn't eat these we would be thin. I also appreciate the support of all the members who cheer me on. I am slowly but surely reaching my goal. Thank you Sparkpeople. I tell everyone about this website. Amazingly, I think I eat more now that I am eating correctly. - 3/30/2013 11:49:32 AM
  • VANANDEL
    I don't own a scale, so I rarely post my weight. I've posted comments on spark pages, but that's not what I do most of the time. Yet I've maintained my weight loss since joining SparkPeople. What I do use is the nutrition and fitness trackers. Those two tools, I find, are key to ensuring I'm following a healthy lifestyle. - 3/1/2013 10:44:08 AM
  • After being a Spark member for a couple years and falling off the wagon when my mom passed away last year, I can truly attest when you're faithful and diligent with logging stuff you're more apt to see results. - 2/27/2013 12:30:08 PM
  • I can attest to this study. When I am active on SparkPeople I am more aware of what I am doing as far as nutrition and fitness, even when I don't meet my goals. When I track my food and fitness I am more successful in healthy eating. It is true - it makes me more accountable. I LOVE, LOVE LOVE SparkPeople! - 2/27/2013 9:41:48 AM
  • Intesteresting article. 91% female--I guess if I think about it that sounds right--boy am I in the minority! - 2/27/2013 7:24:28 AM
  • HOTEAMOM
    This is yet another great article. I know feel very confident that i will lose the weight I want to and will be able to keep it off. Thanks so much Sparks People for all that you do!!! - 2/27/2013 12:18:46 AM
  • From my personal experience - initially I lost weight (and money) with Weight Watchers but did not get any support or have any real interaction. SparkPeople however feels a much better fit for me because I feel more accountable to myself (not the person who does the WW weigh in), I interact with with people and read tips, tricks, ideas, motivation - a good all round interaction that I will not drop because I object to having to pay an on-line fee after I have earned my 'free' lifetime membershiip. Thank you SparkPeople, thank you my Spark friends.

    As an aside 'after a five year study, we found that you can make a lot of money from 5 year studies' ;) Seriously though, I think that this study was unbiased and the results were interesting and meaningful - imagine the effect on America's obesity problems if more people were to take part in this program ! - 2/26/2013 3:03:52 PM
  • All I know is that about 3 years ago SparkPeople helped me tremendously in reaching my weight goal as well as some fitness goals. Then I left, got sidetracked with other things and my diet and fitness became less of a priority. Well, what do you know, the weight came back along with some extra and I lost most of the strength I'd worked so hard for. Now that I've rejoined, I'm slowly making my way back to where I was. Lesson learned. Sites like this give me exactly the sort of motivation I need. - 2/26/2013 11:47:33 AM
  • Three years and 34,507 sparkpoints later, I continue to maintain over 30 pounds of weight loss. SparkPeople works as long as you do the work on SparkPeople.

    Thank you to everyone at SparkPeople who makes the site innovative, interactive, and useful. I would not have maintained without the community and tools. - 2/26/2013 10:50:01 AM
  • This research is right on target! What an amazing service Spark People is! - 2/26/2013 9:59:05 AM

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