Date of Award

5-2013

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

Communication, Technology, and Society

Advisor

Jones, Karyn O

Committee Member

Linvill , Darren L

Committee Member

Scott , D. Travers

Abstract

The state of healthcare in the United States is changing. Amidst this change, there is a debate as to whether health is a public good or if health is a private matter. This change and debate challenges health professionals to rethink the way we go about planning health interventions to better address the many public health issues looming the general population today. The recent rise of obesity and at-risk weight in the United States is a major epidemic that has yet to be resolved. There are many approaches to addressing weight management and for many, public health campaigns have not supported lasting behavioral change. Some have looked to the online scale and contracted the support services of popular commercial weight-loss programs for help attaining an ideal weight. Commercial diet and weight-loss programs such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig have integrated new media into their communication strategy. These programs have the capacity to support the needs of a wide range of participants while providing customized support through a variety of media. This study focuses on how commercial weight-loss programs use Twitter to facilitate support.
This study seeks to better understand how three major commercial weight-loss programs use Twitter as a starting point for future research discovering industry best practices. Through analysis using an adapted version of the Social Support Behavioral Codes (SSBC) - originally employed by Curtron's and Surh (1992) - this study was able to make sense of commercial weight-loss program Twitter use. The results of a content analysis of program tweets (n=1,172) show potential for Twitter to be a valuable tool when integrated into health campaigns. Results also show that commercial weight-loss programs were able to provide all five major themes of support described in the SSBC. Informational support and network support were the predominant themes used by the programs, but the programs did not use the themes of support the same way. The results reported from this analysis make way for future studies in the effectiveness of commercial weight-loss program support. Eventually, these findings will lead to greater practical application of best practices for providing support to those suffering from various diseases using Twitter.

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