Evaluating mobile weight loss apps on use of evidence-based behavioral strategies

In a new study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, UMass Medical School behavioral psychologist and weight loss expert Sherry Pagoto, PhD, and colleagues find that mobile apps to help people lose weight are lacking when it comes to strategies for changing behaviors.

"Apps do include evidence-based behavioral strategies, but only a narrow range," said Dr. Pagoto, associate professor of medicine at UMass Medical School. "Strategies that often were missing are ones that help patients with adherence and motivation."

In the study "Evidence-based strategies in weight-loss ," published online Oct. 8, Pagoto and colleagues rated 30 of the most popular mobile weight-loss apps on the market for inclusion of 20 evidence-based behavioral strategies. Most of the apps evaluated include few or no behavioral weight-loss strategies—28 out of 30 included only 25 percent of the strategies or less. Even the top two apps include only 65 percent of the 20 strategies.

Behavioral weight-loss strategies that are evidence-based—meaning they have been scientifically researched and found to be effective—include stimulus willpower control, problem solving, stress reduction and relapse prevention. The 20 strategies that the study rated are those in the Centers for Disease Control's evidence-based Diabetes Prevention Plan, designed to help participants make modest behavior changes in order to lose 5 to 7 percent of their body weight. Pagoto's team was also interested in determining whether apps incorporate technology features to enhance . "On the bright side, in terms of how apps are using technology, they're doing some really interesting things," Pagoto noted.

Enhancements include barcode scanners that can be used in a supermarket to instantly get products' nutritional information; social networks where users can encourage and support each other; email and text reminders; and calendars for scheduling exercise and tracking food intake.

The researchers' final question was "Do you get what you pay for?"

"The answer is no," said Pagoto. "Free apps were just as likely as paid apps to include evidence-based strategies. That's the good news for the consumer."

The two top-rated apps, according to the study, are MyNetDiary PRO ($3.99,) and MyNetDiary (free.)

"Where we're hoping the next generation of apps can do better is in incorporating some of those strategies that help the user who might not be so good about entering their diet every day and staying on track with their goals," Pagoto concluded.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Weight loss counseling lifts depression in new study

Apr 25, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Women struggling with clinical depression and obesity should consider a comprehensive weight loss program to significantly boost their mood, according to new research out of UMass Medical School published ...

Study shows over 200 mobile apps related to dermatology

Sep 25, 2013

A surge of mobile apps related to dermatology has allowed scores of smart phone users to track and diagnose a wide range of skin diseases but doctors are urging caution, according to a study published today in the Journal of ...

US teens love apps, not tracking

Aug 22, 2013

American teenagers love their smartphone apps, but many are avoiding them, due to fears about privacy and location tracking.

Recommended for you

Can YouTube save your life?

Aug 29, 2014

Only a handful of CPR and basic life support (BLS) videos available on YouTube provide instructions which are consistent with recent health guidelines, according to a new study published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the jo ...

Doctors frequently experience ethical dilemmas

Aug 29, 2014

(HealthDay)—For physicians trying to balance various financial and time pressures, ethical dilemmas are common, according to an article published Aug. 7 in Medical Economics.

AMGA: Physician turnover still high in 2013

Aug 29, 2014

(HealthDay)—For the second year running, physician turnover remains at the highest rate since 2005, according to a report published by the American Medical Group Association (AMGA).

Obese or overweight teens more likely to become smokers

Aug 29, 2014

A study examining whether overweight or obese teens are at higher risk for substance abuse finds both good and bad news: weight status has no correlation with alcohol or marijuana use but is linked to regular ...

User comments