Mobile app boosts weight loss by 15 pounds

December 10, 2012, Northwestern University

Using a mobile app that tracks eating and activity helped people lose an average of 15 pounds and keep it off for at least a year, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

But the technology only aided when its users also attended regular classes about nutrition and exercise. The app alone didn't help.

"The app is important because it helps people regulate their behavior, which is really hard to do," said Bonnie Spring, lead investigator of the study and a professor of at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Most of us have no idea how many calories we consume and how much we get. The app gives you feedback on this and helps you make smart decisions in the moment."

"The 'widget' is critical but it is not magical by itself," Spring added. "People need all the tools at their disposal."

The study will be published Dec. 10 in .

This is the first study to show that technology added to an existing program of weight loss classes can produce sustained weight loss. Spring believes the weight loss app is the first proven to be effective in a published . Commercially available apps are not usually evidence based or tested for effectiveness in rigorously designed research, she noted.

In addition, the Northwestern technology is based on validated behavior change techniques including self-monitoring, goal setting, feedback and social support.

The study included 69 and who were an average age of 58 and primarily men. All participants were offered health education classes on nutrition, exercise and twice monthly during the first six months and once monthly for the remainder of the year.

Each participant received weekly calorie goals based on his current weight and weekly activity goals based on his current level of activity. Participants receiving treatment as usual recorded their eating and activity on paper. Those in the experimental treatment used the mobile device to transmit their data to a behavioral coach, who monitored their information and provided scheduled telephone coaching for 10 to 15 minutes about twice monthly.

People who used the mobile phone technology and attended 80 percent of the health education sessions lost 15 pounds and maintained the loss for one year. The average weight loss for the mobile phone group—including those who did not attend the education sessions—was 8.6 pounds. The control group—which received the education sessions but no mobile app—did not lose weight.

The time people spent interacting with the remote coaches was minimal.

"The coaches' most important role was being in the wings," Spring said. "The patients know the coaches are hovering and supportively holding them accountable. They know somebody is watching and caring and that's what makes a difference."

The participants, who were older, did not have prior experience with mobile phone technology and easily mastered the technology. "Some people think older people won't use technology interventions, but that isn't so," Spring said.

One big challenge in treating obesity is the need to provide intensive behavioral treatment in a health care system where physicians don't have the time and training to do it.

"This approach empowers patients to help themselves on a day-to-day basis," Spring said. "We can help people lose meaningful amounts of weight and keep it off. To do that we need to engage them in tracking their own eating and activity, learn how that governs weight, and take advantage of social support."

Explore further: Health coaches could be key to successful weight loss, study suggests

More information: Arch Intern Med. Published online December 10, 2012. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed2013.1221
Arch Intern Med. Published online December 10, 2012. doi:10.1001/.jamainternmed.2013.1232

Related Stories

Health coaches could be key to successful weight loss, study suggests

July 30, 2012
Coaches can help athletes score touchdowns and perfect their golf swing, but can they also influence weight loss? Researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center say health coaches could ...

New clinical trial explores use of smartphone application for postpartum weight loss

December 5, 2012
In a first-of-its-kind clinical trial, physician-researchers at University Hospitals (UH) Case Medical Center MacDonald Women's Hospital are exploring the use of "Lose It!," a free Smartphone application (app), for postpartum ...

Overweight, obese adults use electronic device to stick to diet, exercise

March 15, 2012
Overweight and obese adults who used an electronic diary program on a personal digital assistant did better at staying on diet and physical activity programs, researchers reported at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology ...

Electronic devices with reminders make sticking to diets easier

June 5, 2012
There’s some good news for those trying to lose weight with the help of new apps on their mobile devices. They may actually work, says a new research study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Technology can help shed pounds

July 6, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Anyone who has ever struggled to stick to a restricted diet knows that willpower alone is rarely a successful offense.

Recommended for you

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Emase
not rated yet Dec 11, 2012
I have found great results using apps to keep track of my supplement use and the exercise routine I found at www. EatGoodStaySlim .com!
najaja_marki1
not rated yet Dec 11, 2012
@emase, My most favorite really is "Truth about abs" - bit.ly/12hGxec as recommended by the review site. Because it made me reduced from 140kg to 90kg within few weeks. Thanks to healthcanal for each write up related to weight loss.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.