Study: Socializing on SparkPeople Helps with Weight Loss

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

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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Member Comments

sparkpeople helps keep me on track. I plan on staying even after I lose weight. Weight loss is easy. keeping it off is hard. I need the most support for maintenence. Report
I too have reached my goal, over a year ago and I am still here. I do not get much interaction from the people around here, but I love the meal planner and the articles are great. I do feel it is my fault for not getting much interaction, as I do not leave many comments, for one thing I can't seem to figure out where to post anything. It is quite confusing to me. I guess I am old school. I could not have even started on my journey if not for Spark. It is a lifesaver! Report
Yes since coming to sparkpeople my plateau has been broken and I'm inspired and motivated by the teams I have joined it feels wonderful to be with people who understand what you are going through even though each of us has a different journey no one has to go it alone I truly love this community. Report
Two things changed my life when it comes to wellness. Writing a Spark blog and joining Spark teams with people going through similar challenges. It has transformed my wellness journey. The support, information and connection has made the difference for me. My suggestions would be to take the time to seek out teams that are very ACTIVE. I also found a team which is very small, but incredibly active with people who share the same challenges. Small, but active teams encourage direct, immediate and more personal connections with people. I feel very supported on my teams. Take the time to find the right team for you and it will make a world of difference. Report
ive been on sparkpeople since 2011 and while i love the site and alot of the things that go on with it. I really havent had much interaction with people. not that i havent tried. I post messages and add new friends but really havent gotten much from people. Maybe its just me not going about it right or something, but im still here and going on with my weight loss. I hope to figure out how the blogs and things really work because i really could use people cheering me on like i see others getting. Keep on sparking. Report
Beyond weight loss, SP is so valuable for maintenance and just healthy living in general. I credit SP for my 4 years of maintenance. I start each morning right here! Report
My diabetic doctor has referred many a people to SparkPeople. I told him about it. Report
My friend and I joined sparkpeople last July 2011. I had issues and couldn't get going. She stuck to it. Reached her goal and lost 70 by this past Feb 2012. I am so proud of her....she showed me that it here I am back again with a new attitude Report
thanks for all the inspiring comments,I'm so glad I joined up Report
i LOVE this article ... it is very reassuring to know that a gut feeling is backed up by research .... yay spark people!
I've found the on-line interaction and tools much more helpful than the "live" meetings of WW that I participated in some years ago.

I do agree that one has to be careful not to allow oneself to become glued to the keyboard, however. Report
My Doctor has been very pleased with my progress just these last 5 weeks. He asked me what I had been doing as he is NOT a believer of "fad" diets, etc. I told him about SparkPeople and he wrote down the website address. A few days later he called and thanked me for the information. He said he spent an entire evening reading all over the web site....he was totally impressed. In fact he was so impressed he had already given 2 of his patients the address....SparkP
eople WORKS! Report
WOW!!! So now I know I can do this. It makes my day to be able to log on to SP. I love all the challenges and my teams. The best site on the net Report
This is fabulous! I have found SparkPeople to be much more welcoming and informative than other sites I have used. I am so glad to see that others, especially the medical community, are recognizing was a great resource this site is. Report
It's all about having others "around" you working toward a similar goal. The new team I found seems to be the right fit for me. Just took me years to find it. Time to get cracking and get this extra weight off. Size 8 here I come (again). Report


About The Author

Stepfanie Romine
Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.