SMASH uncovers correlation between weight loss and social networks

Weight loss can be difficult for some, but a team of researchers at the University of Oregon are working on a way to make it easier. Project SMASH (Semantic Mining of Activity, Social, and Health data) was initiated to look into how social networking plays a role with exercise.

The study involved 254 overweight individuals, according to Dejing Dou, an associate professor for the computer sciences dept. and principal investigator for SMASH. The test subjects were divided into three groups:  influencers, influenced users, and non-influenced users.

The influencers were tasked with messaging and socializing online with the influenced users. The last group was left as a control, according to NhatHai Phan, a research associate who worked on the project.

All participants, Dou explained, were given a sensor that tracked their physical activity for 10 months by a team from PeaceHealth Laboratories and SKTA, SK Telecom Americans, in 2010-2011.

“[The] whole project was designed to help overweight people exercise more,” said Dou.

The study showed a difference between those who were being constantly engaged on social networks and those who were not, Dou described. The  average BMI and cholesterol dropped the most for those who were being messaged and contacted in the influenced user group by those involved with the influencer group.

“Social networks have great potential to propagate physical activities,” said Phan.

A SMASH presentation led by Phan on the recent results of the study was held in a colloquium talking Deschutes hall at 3:30 p.m. on January 22, where the speaker addressed a crowd of around 20 people.

“What we try to show is that our work is valuable,” stated Dou.

The presentation discussed how obesity is a major problem in the United States, saying in 20 states, 30% or more of the population is overweight. Phan also said medical treatment for obesity cost the U.S $147 billion in 2008.

The project was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH), the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), as stated on SMASH’s website. The NIGMS awarded the research team with $1.54 million over a three year period.

SMASH’s three year study will be wrapping up in 2016 after having spent over $9 million on developing the project. The groups results will be published in journals and conference proceedings. SMASH plans on conducting further studies to discover additional correlations between social networks and weight loss, Dou said.

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Eric Schucht

Eric Schucht

Eric is a videographer for The Emerald. A journalism major at the University of Oregon, Eric spends his free time failing at parallel parking and searching for the lost television remote.