The effect of social media interventions on physical activity and dietary behaviours in young people and adults: a systematic review

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

599 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The objectives of this systematic review were to update the evidence base on social media interventions for physical activity and diet since 2014, analyse the characteristics of interventions that resulted in changes to physical activity and diet-related behaviours, and assess differences in outcomes across different population groups. Methods: A systematic search of the literature was conducted across 5 databases (Medline, Embase, EBSCO Education, Wiley and Scopus) using key words related to social media, physical activity, diet, and age. The inclusion criteria were: participants age 13+ years in the general population; an intervention that used commercial social media platform(s); outcomes related to changes to diet/eating or physical activity behaviours; and quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods studies. Quality appraisal tools that aligned with the study designs were used. A mixed methods approach was used to analyse and synthesise all evidence. Results: Eighteen studies were included: randomised control trials (n = 4), non-controlled trials (n = 3), mixed methods studies (n = 3), non-randomised controlled trials (n = 5) and cross-sectional studies (n = 3). The target population of most studies was young female adults (aged 18–35) attending college/university. The interventions reported on positive changes to physical activity and diet-related behaviours through increases in physical activity levels and modifications to food intake, body composition and/or body weight. The use of Facebook, Facebook groups and the accessibility of information and interaction were the main characteristics of social media interventions. Studies also reported on Instagram, Reddit, WeChat and Twitter and the use of photo sharing and editing, groups and sub-groups and gamification. Conclusions: Social media interventions can positively change physical activity and diet-related behaviours, via increases in physical activity levels, healthy modifications to food intake, and beneficial changes to body composition or body weight. New evidence is provided on the contemporary uses of social media (e.g. gamification, multi-model application, image sharing/editing, group chats) that can be used by policy makers, professionals, organisations and/or researchers to inform the design of future social media interventions. This study had some limitations that mainly relate to variation in study design, over-reliance of self-reported measures and sample characteristics, that prevented comparative analysis. Registration number: PROPSERO;CRD42020210806.

Original languageEnglish
Article number72
JournalThe International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Diet
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Narrative review
  • Physical activity
  • Reddit
  • Social media
  • Systematic review
  • Twitter
  • Young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


Dive into the research topics of 'The effect of social media interventions on physical activity and dietary behaviours in young people and adults: a systematic review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this