Diet and fitness apps DO help you lose weight (but you also need a little willpower, too)
Dieters who used a smartphone app and exercised lost on average 8lb more than their counterparts who didn't track daily food intake and movementsFirst study to show adding technology to a weight loss programme can produce sustained weight loss Experts say apps make it easier to track calories and exercise
12:17 GMT, 11 December 2012
American researchers have found smartphone apps can help dieters shed the pounds – but only if they put in the effort
They are one of the latest crutches for dieters desperate to shed the pounds.
But the jury has been out on whether smartphone apps that aid weight loss and boost fitness actually work.
Now, American researchers say such apps can really help – but only if you put in the effort.
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.
The researchers say this is the first study to show that technology added to an existing program of weight loss classes can produce sustained weight loss.
But the app alone didn’t help – the technology only aided weight loss when its users also attended regular classes about nutrition and exercise.
'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 preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
'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 study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, included 69 overweight and obese adults who were an average age of 58 and primarily men.
All participants were offered health education classes on nutrition, exercise and behaviour change 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.
While one group recorded their eating
and activity on paper, the other used a mobile app to transmit their
data to a behavioral coach, who monitored the information and provided
phone feedback for 15 minutes twice a month.
Apps help us regulate our behaviour, which is very hard to do, say the researchers
Those who used the mobile app and attended 80 per cent of the health education sessions lost 15 pounds and maintained the loss for one year.
Overall, the average weight loss for the mobile phone group – including those who did not attend the education sessions – was 8.6 pounds.
Significantly, those who received the education sessions but didn't use the app lost no weight.
The participants, who were middle-aged, did not have prior experience with mobile phone technology and easily mastered the technology, said Professor Spring.
'Some people think older people won’t use technology interventions, but that isn’t so,' she said.
She added that one big challenge in treating obesity is the need to provide intensive behavioral treatment in an ear where many doctors don't have the time and training to do it.
'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.
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.'