Study finds potential in social media tools for smoking cessation

By Molly Merrill
10:10 AM

Online community support holds great promise for creating healthy habits, according to a new study of a mobile health application geared toward helping people quit smoking.

The study results were released by the University of Southern California's Institute for Communication Technology Management (CTM) and the USC Center for Body Computing (CBC).

Researchers surveyed 266 users of LIVESTRONG.COM's MyQuit Coach, a mobile application that enables people to work toward their goal to quit smoking with the help of a smart cigarette tracking system and a supportive online community. The MyQuit Coach survey found that the ability to immediately and continually track cigarette consumption along with encouragement and social support can lead to smoking cessation.

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"People who were successful saw value in what they perceived as a more focused social networking group whose common goal was to quit smoking," said Elizabeth Fife, CTM's associate director of research who conducted the study. The study showed people were successful with the application because of community support from similarly motivated users sharing the same experience.

The app was developed with the help of the USC Center for Body Computing, which researches and develops wireless health solutions. The majority of the survey respondents were between 31-50 years old and were attempting to quit a significant smoking habit. The program was used alone by some, and also in conjunction with other methods, such as acupuncture, prescription medication and nicotine replacement therapy.

"The results of this survey indicate that there may be an online community effect, that can enhance people's ability to quit smoking," said Lucy Hood, executive director of CTM, who studies the business implications of new technologies in partnership with the CBC. "Other online social networking programs may prove to be an inexpensive yet effective addition to smoking cessation treatment options, and we plan further study."

The study showed that more than twice as many users who succeeded at quitting found benefits from being a part of a focused social network, as well as having access to interaction with that community at any time they needed it. More than 80 percent of successful users "received continuous positive feedback" and thought it "was always there when they needed it."

"After many years of treating patients, I realize that it takes a lot more than an a stern warning to change negative behaviors," said Leslie Saxon, the executive director of the USC Center for Body Computing and the chief of cardiovascular medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine.

"Given the growing importance and time spent on social networks, we think the results show promise for health information on networks," said Saxon. "Successfully ending an addiction to smoking is a complex interplay between personal and social influences. We strove to allow the smoker to use their own understanding, as well as that of a social network to identify and modify these factors. We found that social networks can be more effective than a yearly chest X-ray and an admonishment to quit smoking from a doctor."

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