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

October 8, 2013

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.

Explore further: Diabetes apps among top 10 doctors recommend to patients

Related Stories

Diabetes apps among top 10 doctors recommend to patients

August 31, 2013
(HealthDay)—Apps for managing diabetes and calculating the risk of cardiovascular disease are among the top 10 apps doctors recommend to their patients, according to researchers at Medical Economics.

Weight loss counseling lifts depression in new study

April 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

September 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 ...

US teens love apps, not tracking

August 22, 2013
American teenagers love their smartphone apps, but many are avoiding them, due to fears about privacy and location tracking.

Health apps abound, but usage low, study shows

January 28, 2013
US consumers are being offered a vast range of smartphone apps to track or manage health, but only a small number of people are using them, according to a survey.

Recommended for you

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Safety of medical devices not often evaluated by sex, age, or race

July 25, 2017
Researchers at Yale and the University of California-San Francisco have found that few medical devices are analyzed to consider the influence of their users' sex, age, or race on safety and effectiveness.

Why you should consider more than looks when choosing a fitness tracker

July 25, 2017
A UNSW study of five popular physical activity monitors, including Fitbit and Jawbone models, has found their accuracy differs with the speed of activity, and where they are worn.

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

0 comments

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.