Does Facebook make you fatter?

Time spent on social networking sites comes at the expense of other activities – including physical activity.

That is the suggestion of a study being presented today at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology in Liverpool.

The study carried out at the University of Ulster by Masters degree student Emer O’Leary under the supervision of psychologists Dr Wendy Cousins and Dr Tadhg Macintyre asked 353 students to complete an online survey measuring social networking activity and levels of physical activity.

The results showed that the vast majority of students used social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter spending an average of one hour a day online. When it came to the results from the physical activity questionnaire, just over half the students were classified as ‘moderately active; and a third were ‘high activity’, with a minority (12.7 per cent) falling into the ‘low physical activity’ group. A quarter of the respondents said they took part in team sports.

When the results were analysed, the researchers found that the amount of time spent social networking was negatively correlated with the respondents’ level of physical activity in the previous week. People who spent a lot of time on social networking sites were also less likely to take part in team sports, but this effect was less pronounced.

Dr Cousins says:

“Time is a finite resource, so time spent in social networking must come at the expense of other activities. Our study suggests that physical activity may be one of those activities.

“Our findings are intriguing, but as we have not conclusively demonstrated that social networking causes lower levels of physical activity. We will need to carry out more research to see if it really is a case of Facebook makes you fat rather than Twitter makes you fitter.”