Study shows social support contributes to women’s weight loss


Among many of the fitness classes offered at the Campus Recreation Centers, R.I.P.P.E.D., held every Tuesday from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in CRCE in Urbana is a popular choice for women.

For women trying to lose weight, a new study says getting a buddy will help keep you on track.

The study, conducted by Catherine Metzgar, graduate research assistant in food science and human nutrition, found that in order for women to reach their fitness goals, it is important to feel accountable to another person and receive social support and motivation from others.

For the study, Metzgar invited women who previously completed a weight loss study at Penn State to participate in focus groups, showing their experiences with weight loss and maintaining the loss. Around half the participants from the original study participated in focus groups.

The women, aged between 25 and 45 years old, completed an 18-week program by decreasing their calorie intake by 500 calories a day. Metzgar’s research team saw that after the program stopped, most women regained the weight and were unable to maintain their weight. However, 23 women reported additional weight loss. 

The women who lost weight all had similar characteristics: they had strong social support regarding their weight loss from relatives and friends. Also, many of the women thought the program’s weekly educational group meetings had offered the accountability they needed. 

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Chloe Johnston, junior in LAS, said she lost 15 pounds last year and posted all her progress, such as photos of her “transformation,” on social media. Johnston said the support she received on the posts from family and friends helped cement her weight-loss goals. 

“I posted on a social network because it keeps me motivated and makes me accountable,” Johnston said. 

She believes posting weight loss progress on social media is a popular phenomenon, and she frequently sees other girls posting pictures as well. Johnston was pleased to hear about the study, adding that it can help provide women with more options to help others.

According to the study, participants who successfully kept the weight off said they added exercise into their lifestyles and said they listened to their inner motivation to keep them on track. 

Madeline Lager, freshman in Business, said she and her friends feel more encouraged to work out when they go together. She said a lot of friends ask her to monitor their progress, which she finds necessary in order for them to feel she is supporting their weight loss. 

In her study, Metzgar also found that life transitions, such as graduating college, getting a job, getting married, having kids, and so on, are often related to weight gain in women. 

Looking forward, she hopes to continue her research by using larger focus groups and interviewing participants from other weight loss studies that used different methods to lose weight. Additionally, she hopes to find male participants as well, which could provide different feedback and experiences compared to the female’s perspectives.

Ruge can be reached at [email protected].