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Social media for health promotion and weight management: a critical debate.



In 2016 an estimated 1.9 billion adults world-wide were either overweight or obese. The health consequences of obesity are responsible for 2.8 million preventable deaths per year. The WHO now considers obesity as a global epidemic and recommends population-wide health promotion strategies to address this issue. Weight gain is caused by increased energy intake and physical inactivity, so treatment should focus on changes to behaviour regarding diet and physical activity.


The WHO has also recognised the importance of social resources as a valuable agent for behaviour change in health promotion. Social resources are translated at the community level as support provided by significant others such as family, partners and peers, in the form of information, material aid and encouragement. Social support has been shown to improve health and well-being, whereas social isolation has been shown to have a negative impact on health outcomes. Social support provided by peers has been shown to be a useful strategy to employ in weight management programmes. The documented increased use of ICT and social media has presented health promoters with a potentially useful medium to increase social support for weight management.


While the use of social media for health promotion is an emerging field of investigation, preliminary research suggests that it increases participant engagement, and may provide a cost-effective tool to provide social support for individuals participating in weight management programmes. With stringent privacy protocols in place, social media may be a useful, cost-effective accompaniment to multifactorial weight management programmes. However more research is needed to identify how to make the best use of social media as health promotion tool.

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