Social support vital to improve lifestyle and eating choices

Woman running in the countryside
A marketing conference, hosted by Griffith University, will throw new light on the success of weight loss programs.

A study into the behavioural habits of people undertaking a well-known weight management program has found social support plays a crucial role in positive outcomes

Social marketing researchers from Griffith University looked at the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation program and collected responses and data from 594 participants who undertook a 12 week digital commercial lifestyle challenge.

The research focused on the new behaviours and changes adopted by the program’s members during the three month challenge.

The program incorporated evidence-based behaviour change techniques that are influenced by a person’s motivation and their environment, as well as their ability to commit to healthy habits.

Results of the study highlight the importance of motivation in weight loss, with participants reporting that they lost weight after implementing the learned habits and changing their mindset.

Social connection plays a major role

Dr Joy Parkinson from Griffith University’s Department of Social Marketing, said a key finding of the study was the importance of social connection by the participants and the role it played in helping them remain focused.

“Because weight management is a complex type of emotional behaviour and that most of the participants were women, there was a constant and vital need for online support.

“First it was through the support offered by the organisation but over time that shifted to peer-to-peer support as participants began to encourage and motivate each other on chat forums and in groups.”

The study, one of the first to look at lifestyle and weight management control via an online program, showed the benefit that digital communication brings to participants who need constant interaction.

Communication is key to changed behaviour

“Unlike a personal trainer who you may only see once a week, this type of program allows people the ability to talk and communicate with others whenever they need to.

“There is a strength of unity during the 12 weeks and even after the program finishes, they can jump on to external social media groups and discuss their achievements and goals,” Dr Parkinson said.

“Motivated individuals don’t need this form of social support but for a lot of people, including middle aged women who are lacking confidence, these programs are an effective tool to changing behaviour and learned habits.”

The findings also demonstrate that repeat use of programs is important for the maintenance of behaviour change, moving consumers beyond merely behaviour adoption.

“Obesity, like diabetes needs to be managed over the life course and should not be expected to be fixed by a one-off program,” Dr Parkinson said.