Case Study: Weight Loss and Online Social Support

A new study by Amy Aldredge Sanford (Northeastern University) highlights the role that that internet sites can have for social support for the morbidly obese working to lose weight. Weight  loss is a particularly interesting example for the study of communication and social support because of the stigma that can be attached to appearing overweight, and because obesity may be linked to other issues such as addiction or depression.

Possible questions to explore:

  • How do communication processes of online support and offline support compare?
  • Does using the internet for social support raise any new possibilities or new concerns compared to offline support?
  • What are the patterns or qualities of online communication for social support?


  • Sanford, A. A. (2010). “I Can Air My Feelings Instead of Eating Them”: Blogging as Social Support for the Morbidly Obese. Communication Studies, 61(5), 567-584. Routledge. doi: 10.1080/10510974.2010.514676.
  • Black, L. W., Bute, J. J., & Russell, L. D. (2010). “The secret is out!”: Supporting weight loss through online interaction. In L. Shedletsky & J. Aiken (Eds.), Cases on online discussion and interaction: Experiences and outcomes (pp. 351-368). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
  • Suggs, L. S. (2006). A 10-year retrospective of research in new technologies for health communication. Journal of Health Communication, 11(1), 61-74. doi: 10.1080/10810730500461083.
  • Tanis, M. (2008). Health-related on-line forums: what’s the big attraction?. Journal of Health Communication, 13(7), 698-714. doi: 10.1080/10810730802415316.