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New Nutrition Sites Employ Message Boards, Friends Lists to Assist Users Lose Weight

Jennifer Wood used to be an overweight, emotional eater who snacked on ice cream and junk food during her weak moments. Then one day, Ms. Wood, 29 years old, and her mother bet on who can drop the most weight. The loser had to purchase tickets for the ballet. To get motivated, Ms. Wood joined a Web site called Calorie-Count.com.

Nearly two years later and 50 pounds lighter, Ms. Wood, an underwriting assistant in St. Louis, says she has changed her lifestyle for the better thanks in part to Calorie-Count, a nutrition site that offers social networking, as well. She says she is consuming a healthier diet, running and cycling on a regular basis and wearing a size six.

She says, "Mom was too successful, but I won."

Online social-networking sites for niche groups have been multiplying, looking to piggyback on the achievement of My Space and Face book Inc. by offering content tailored for their users. Now several health and nutrition sites incorporate social networking, including Calorie-Count, Diet TV.com, and PEER trainer Inc.

The sites present a variety of weight-loss tools and nutrition information, and let users share tips and advice with one another. Features consist of personal profiles, groups or message boards based on interests, and the ability to make "friends" with other users.

The sites, which are free of charge and in general support themselves with advertising, have grown in popularity as Americans increasingly turn to the Web for health information. Since September 2006, Calorie-Count and its new enhanced version, Calorie-Count Plus, together have added 400,000 new members, for 620,000. Calorie-Count is a subsidiary of New York Times Co.ís about.com. PEER trainer, found at peer trainer.com, says its membership has reached more than 900,000 since its start in 2005. (Diet TV was launched in June.)

The sites present some testimonials with success stories like that of Ms. Wood's. In addition, a handful of studies recommend that online dieting programs in general can be effective. However, no research has been done on whether these particular sites facilitate people lose weight and keep it off. Some nutrition experts are skeptical of the online-networking model. For one, they say, any advice coming from a peer-to-peer forum online should be viewed with caution; there is the potential for fellow dieters to spread misinformation or bad advice. In addition, spammers at times bombard the sites with fad-diet advertisements.

Tara Gidus, a registered dietician and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, notes that while talking and making friends online can help users form support groups, it also can be a time waster. "I think more people talk about diet and exercise than they actually do it," she says.

No Time To Meet

Daily Calorie Log

Forming Groups

Clearing Spam

 

 

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