Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Agriculture - Food Science and Nutrition


Food Science and Nutrition


Lisa Nicholson


Objective: The purpose of this pilot study was to examine the effect of an online social network used as an adjunct to a behavioral weight loss intervention on participants’ perceived social support and perceived self-efficacy using constructs of Social Cognitive Theory as a basis for website development.

Methods: 13 adult women (mean age: 43 years of age, range: 25-63 years) participated in a 12-week behavioral weight-loss intervention with the option to access the Transformation Challenge Online Community (TCOC), an internet-based support and informational website. The TCOC was developed using constructs of the Social Cognitive Theory. Data analyzed included online site usage software and pre- and post-questionnaire results. Time spent online, unique visits to the webpage, and pre and post-intervention data were analyzed using a mixed methods approach.

Results: Average time spent on TCOC was 95.6 minutes over the entire three month intervention (range: 0 – 287 minutes). Website usage varied widely ranging from a participant who never accessed the site to another participant who logged on daily and commented a total of 27 times. Perceived self-efficacy to maintain a learned health behavior without the aid of a professional, as well as overall perceived social support were statistically significantly greater post-intervention. Confidence in the TCOC’s ability to aid in making healthy lifestyle changes decreased significantly from pre- to post-intervention while website usage also decreased over time.

Conclusions: The internet may be a valuable tool for improving perceptions of social support and increasing access to reliable information and education. A web-based intervention can be used as an adjunct to a face-to-face intervention to provide additional support and information, as well as used to reach groups who may not have access to a face-to-face option. Considerations should be given to the structure of the online program; the potential for dynamic, aesthetically pleasing self-regulation tools; and content that is tailored to the individual. Decreased usage of the website over time may reflect similar difficulties in maintaining participation in face-to-face weight loss interventions. Attention should also be given to the target audience as participant comfort levels and feelings towards using the internet may differ significantly between users and therefore impact outcomes.