Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes: The Effects of Mismatches in Social Support and Health Outcomes in an Online Weight Loss Community
Production and Operations Management. 27(1) 9-27, 2017
38 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2016 Last revised: 4 Mar 2018
Date Written: September 1, 2017
The United States has the highest rate of obesity in the world. To help address this problem, social support is gaining credibility as a powerful tool to facilitate weight loss because it can affect people’s behavior. Although social support has long been recognized for its effectiveness in promoting health, we argue, in this study, that social support may not always lead to good outcomes. Specifically, we differentiate between support providers and support seekers, and examine whether providing and receiving support affect individuals’ weight-loss outcomes differently. By analyzing a group of individuals participating in an online weight-loss community, we show that providing and receiving support do affect weight-loss outcomes in different ways. First, the influences are dynamic. Second, while providing support is positively associated with weight-loss progress, receiving support could hinder weight-loss outcome for a person with high self-efficacy in weight-loss progress. Third, by categorizing social support into different types, we find evidence suggesting that the match between needed and received social support type also influences individuals’ performance in the weight-loss process. Furthermore, mismatches of social support could negatively affect weight-loss outcomes. These findings have implications for maximizing the usefulness of social support for participants in the online environment as well as for clinicians who refer individuals to online weight-loss communities and for those who design them.
Keywords: social support, support adequacy, optimal matching, weight loss, social media, sentiment analysis
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