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Keywords:

  • commercial diets;
  • consumer perspectives and experiences;
  • information seeking;
  • internet;
  • obesity;
  • qualitative research;
  • weight loss

Abstract

Introduction  This study explores what types of information obese individuals search for on the Internet, their motivations for seeking information and how they apply it in their daily lives.

Method  In-depth telephone interviews with an Australian community sample of 142 individuals with a BMI ≥ 30 were conducted. Theoretical, purposive and strategic samplings were employed. Data were analysed using a constant comparative method.

Results  Of the 142 individuals who participated in the study, 111 (78%) searched for information about weight loss or obesity. Of these, about three quarters searched for weight loss solutions. The higher the individual’s weight, the more they appeared to search for weight loss solutions. Participants also searched for information about health risks associated with obesity (n = 28), how to prevent poor health outcomes (n = 30) and for peer support forums with other obese individuals (n = 25). Whilst participants visited a range of websites, including government-sponsored sites, community groups and weight loss companies, they overwhelmingly acted upon the advice given on commercial diet websites. However, safe, non-judgemental spaces such as the Fatosphere (online fat acceptance community) provided much needed solidarity and support.

Conclusions  The Internet provides a convenient source of support and information for obese individuals. However, many turn to the same unsuccessful solutions online (e.g. fad dieting) they turn to in the community. Government and community organisations could draw upon some lessons learned in other consumer-driven online spaces (e.g. the Fatosphere) to provide supportive environments for obese individuals that resonate with their health and social experiences, and address their needs.