16 - Digital Users Who are Obese are more likely to like, comment, or share social media postings about health food

  • All users more likely to view more posts from the same account than like, share, or comment on a healthy food post on Instagram
  • Obese users more likely to interact with healthy food post on social media if it has lower activity (no comments or likes)
  • To associate themselves with a healthier lifestyle image on social media, obese social media users positively interact with healthy food posts
  • Social media sites associated with raising users' self-esteem, contrary to popular beliefs

With the sudden rise of social media in recent years, it's not hard to observe how it has become such an integral part of our daily lives. More specifically, scrolling through a Facebook or Instagram feed, it wouldn't be a surprise to come across posts boasting mouth-watering photos of healthy (or some not-so-healthy) delicacies. Besides making our stomachs rumble, how have these posts affected our lifestyle? How have our personal experiences affect how we engage with these posts?

According to a recent study, users on social media are significantly more likely to engage with a social media post if they are considered obese. This may not be surprising, since obese users may want to project a healthier life image and work towards a better lifestyle. In addition to this main finding, the study also found a direct correlation between the prior activity the post had to the likelihood of obese users to engage (share, like, or comment) with the photo.

In the study, subjects across three BMI groups - normal, overweight, obese - were shown an Instagram post of a healthy food choice with either low activity (no likes or comments) or high activity (100+ likes, multiple comments). After being shown the photo, they were asked to complete a survey rating their intentions to interact with the post.

Across each BMI category, the most popular interaction after seeing a healthy food post was viewing more photos posted by the original account. Although people are less likely to actually follow the account after, uploading an appealing healthy meal can lead to increased exposure to an account.

For normal and overweight users, the likeliness to view more photos from the same account isn't dependent on the number of likes or comments the post has. Therefore, the quality of the content still seems to be the most important factor for exposure to a social media account for most users. As discussed in the video above by Andrea, an avid Instagram user following several food-related accounts, likeliness to interact with a healthy food post on Instagram was solely dependent on the appeal of the pictured food, and not the activity of the post itself.

However, how does the prior activity to a healthy food photo cause obese users to interact? As shown in the chart below, these users are significantly more likely to interact with a healthy food photo on social media if it lacks prior activity. The data comes from the aforementioned study showing the effect of a users' weight with their interactions with food posts on social media. The more likes or comments a photo has, the less likely an obese user is to interact with it in any way. This interesting trend conflicts with other BMI groups, and may give more insight into obese users' motivations on social media.

The clear disparity in likeliness to interact to these photos among obese users and other users may be attributed to self-esteem issues. While obese users may be conscientious of their weight issues, associating themselves with a healthier lifestyle on social media may make them feel more comfortable and motivated to change their lifestyle.

Contrary to popular belief, a study has shown that Facebook actually increases users' self-esteem, since users can be selective in the image they project on their profiles. Concerning healthy food posts, obese users are more likely to interact with these photos to project their idealized lifestyle and boost self-confidence.

Furthermore, commenting or liking a post with no activity is more prone to be noticed than if the photo already has plenty of interactions. This helps explain why obese users are more likely to interact with these low activity posts. If these users are the first to interact with a post, and thus are more likely to be noticed by friends, they have successfully projected a healthier lifestyle and can feel more validated.

In addition to raising self-esteem, social media can also help influence obese users to live healthier. While taking the first step towards losing weight can be difficult to do alone, online communities can inspire and motivate users to live a healthier lifestyle and support each other along the way. Across all social media platforms, more and more accounts are posting photos and videos inspiring healthy behaviors such as being active and eating well.

With three of four Americans predicted to be overweight by 2020, it's important monitor how users interact with social media platforms encouraging healthier behavior, and see how this can affect their lifestyles. Whether it be dedicated Instagram accounts sharing healthy recipes, Facebook groups dedicated to living healthier, or YouTube channels posting workout videos, social media has transformed the way people choose to lose weight.

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