Mobile app helps people lose weight and keep it off, study finds

Friday, December 14, 2012 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: mobile apps, weight loss, research

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(NaturalNews) A mobile app designed by health researchers was successful in helping people lose significantly more weight than they were able to lose without it, according to a study conducted by researchers from Northwestern Medicine and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Just as importantly, users of the app were also more successful at keeping the weight off a full year later.

Although there are already many weight loss apps on the market, lead researcher Bonnie Spring says this is the first time that a weight loss app has been proven effective in a randomized, clinical trial published in a peer-reviewed journal. In contrast to the currently available apps, the one used in the study was also designed to make use of proven behavior change strategies including goal setting, feedback, self-monitoring and social support. The study is the first to show that technology can make existing weight loss classes more effective at achieving sustained weight loss.

The study was conducted on 69 overweight and obese adults, primarily men, with an average age of 58. The participants were given the opportunity to attend health education classes that included information on nutrition, exercise and behavior change. The classes met twice a month for six months and then once a month for the next six months. Participants were given weekly calorie and exercise goals to meet, based on their current weight and activity levels.

The participants were randomly assigned either to record their food intake and exercise on a piece of paper, or to make use of the mobile weight loss app. The app's users input their data directly into a mobile phone, which transmitted it to a behavioral coach. This coach reviewed the data and called participants approximately twice a month for a 10 to 15-minute telephone coaching session.

Empowered to regulate behavior

The researchers found that participants who used the mobile app attended, on average, 80 percent of the education sessions. They lost an average of 15 pounds each. Participants who used the app but did not attend the sessions lost an average of 8.6 pounds each, while those who attended the sessions but did not use the app (the paper group) did not lose any weight, on average.

"The app is important because it helps people regulate their behavior, which is really hard to do," Spring said. "Most of us have no idea how many calories we consume and how much physical activity we get. The app gives you feedback on this and helps you make smart decisions in the moment."

The app would be relatively easy to incorporate into weight loss programs, the participants noted. Coaches played mostly a supporting role, spending very little time overall interacting with participants. Likewise, although few of the participants had used mobile technology before, they all adapted to it quickly. "Some people think older people won't use technology interventions, but that isn't so," Spring said.

"This approach empowers patients to help themselves on a day-to-day basis," she said. "We can help people lose meaningful amounts of weight and keep it off."


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