Background: Recent research has shown that of the 72% of American Internet users who have looked for health information online, 22% have searched for help to lose or control weight. This demand for information has given rise to many online weight management communities, where users support one another throughout their weight loss process. Whether and how user engagement in online communities relates to weight change is not totally understood.
Objective: We investigated the activity behavior and analyze the semantic content of the messages of active users in LoseIt (r/loseit), a weight management community of the online social network Reddit. We then explored whether these features are associated with weight loss in this online social network.
Methods: A data collection tool was used to collect English posts, comments, and other public metadata of active users (ie, users with at least one post or comment) on LoseIt from August 2010 to November 2014. Analyses of frequency and intensity of user interaction in the community were performed together with a semantic analysis of the messages, done by a latent Dirichlet allocation method. The association between weight loss and online user activity patterns, the semantics of the messages, and real-world variables was found by a linear regression model using 30-day weight change as the dependent variable.
Results: We collected posts and comments of 107,886 unique users. Among these, 101,003 (93.62%) wrote at least one comment and 38,981 (36.13%) wrote at least one post. Median percentage of days online was 3.81 (IQR 9.51). The 10 most-discussed semantic topics on posts were related to healthy food, clothing, calorie counting, workouts, looks, habits, support, and unhealthy food. In the subset of 754 users who had gender, age, and 30-day weight change data available, women were predominant and 92.9% (701/754) lost weight. Female gender, body mass index (BMI) at baseline, high levels of online activity, the number of upvotes received per post, and topics discussed within the community were independently associated with weight change.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that among active users of a weight management community, self-declaration of higher BMI levels (which may represent greater dissatisfaction with excess weight), high online activity, and engagement in discussions that might provide social support are associated with greater weight loss. These findings have the potential to aid health professionals to assist patients in online interventions by focusing efforts on increasing engagement and/or starting discussions on topics of higher impact on weight change.
Keywords: obesity; online social media; topic modeling; user behavior; weight loss.
©Gisele Lobo Pappa, Tiago Oliveira Cunha, Paulo Viana Bicalho, Antonio Ribeiro, Ana Paula Couto Silva, Wagner Meira Jr, Alline Maria Rezende Beleigoli. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 16.01.2017.