Objectives: To conduct a systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) examining the use of social media to promote healthy diet and exercise in the general population.
Data sources: MEDLINE, CENTRAL, ERIC, PubMed, CINAHL, Academic Search Complete, Alt Health Watch, Health Source, Communication and Mass Media Complete, Web of Knowledge and ProQuest Dissertation and Thesis (2000-2013).
Study eligibility criteria: RCTs of social media interventions promoting healthy diet and exercise behaviours in the general population were eligible. Interventions using social media, alone or as part of a complex intervention, were included.
Study appraisal and synthesis: Study quality was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool. We describe the studies according to the target populations, objectives and nature of interventions, outcomes examined, and results and conclusions. We extracted data on the primary and secondary outcomes examined in each study. Where the same outcome was assessed in at least three studies, we combined data in a meta-analysis.
Results: 22 studies were included. Participants were typically middle-aged Caucasian women of mid-to-high socioeconomic status. There were a variety of interventions, comparison groups and outcomes. All studies showed a decrease in programme usage throughout the intervention period. Overall, no significant differences were found for primary outcomes which varied across studies. Meta-analysis showed no significant differences in changes in physical activity (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.13 (95% CI -0.04 to 0.30), 12 studies) and weight (SMD -0.00 (95% CI -0.19 to 0.19), 10 studies); however, pooled results from five studies showed a significant decrease in dietary fat consumption with social media (SMD -0.35 (95% CI -0.68 to -0.02)).
Conclusions: Social media may provide certain advantages for public health interventions; however, studies of social media interventions to date relating to healthy lifestyles tend to show low levels of participation and do not show significant differences between groups in key outcomes.
Keywords: Diet; Exercise; Lifestyle; Social Media.