Instagram may help users track food intake

Researchers find that posting pictures to social media sites like Instagram may help users achieve healthy eating and weight loss goals.
By Amy Wallace  |  April 26, 2017 at 2:02 PM
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April 26 (UPI) -- A study by the University of Washington analyzed how Instagram users turn to posting photos of the food they eat to track intake and meet weight loss goals.

Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 16 Instagram users who report consistently recording and sharing photos of what they eat on the social network site.

Study participants reported about the benefits and challenges of using Instagram to achieve their diet and fitness goals.

"The benefit of photos is that it's more fun to do than taking out a booklet or typing hundreds of words of description in an app," Christina Chung, doctoral student at UW human centered design and engineering, said in a press release. "Plus, it's more socially appropriate for people who are trying to track their diets to snap a photo of their plate when they're out with friends -- everyone's doing it and it doesn't look weird."

The Instagram users in the study snapped pictures of what they ate during the day and posted them to the site instead of using traditional food journals or apps that require users to log everything they eat. The reported it making them more accountable by posting pictures each day.

"When you only have one data point for a pizza or donut, it's easy to rationalize that away as a special occasion," Sean Munson, an assistant professor of human centered design and engineering at UW, said. "But when you see a whole tiled grid of them, you have to say to yourself, 'Wait, I don't actually have that many special days.'"

Participants also reported that the social and emotional support they received from other Instagram users helped them to stick to their goals.

Researchers also found that users who met their weight loss goals were able to maintain their goals by remaining on Instagram and helping to mentor and encourage others.

The study will be presented at the CHI 2017 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in May.

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