Mobile Technology Can Boost Weight Loss

mobile_weightlossWhile mobile devices and the internet are often blamed for increasing our tendency to be sedentary or eat while distracted, many are trying to find ways to use mobile technology to help people achieve weight loss. As of today, there are over 13,000 health apps for the iPhone apps, and over 2700 apps related to ‘weight’.  In an effort to test the effectiveness of mobile-based weight management strategies, researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine conducted a year-long randomized trial, adding a personal digital assistant to a standard weight loss program for one portion of the study participants.

Throughout the first six months of the study, both groups attended biweekly meetings led by physicians, psychologists, or dietitians, which covered nutrition, physical activity, and behavior change.  The first group of participants was given a weight loss goal and told to engage in self-monitoring, but no personalized feedback was offered. The second group (“Technology group”) was also given a weight loss goal and advice, but in addition had a tool on their mobile device that monitored their calorie intake and also later had access to a mobile tool that helped with physical activity goals.  This group also received a phone call every 2 weeks from a coach.  The second half of the study was the maintenance phase, in which all participants attended monthly meetings and those in the mobile group continued to use the mobile tools. During this phase, coaches only called Technology group participants if their data wasn’t uploaded.

The key finding was that those in the Technology group dropped notably more weight than those on the program alone; they weighed about 8 pounds less, on average, than the standard care group at checkpoints throughout the study.  Further, the participants who had access to mobile tools were more than 6 times as likely to lose 5 percent or more of their body weight, as compared to the other participants. We spoke to Dr. Mark Fusco, a tech-savvy bariatric surgeon who uses social media, a website and mobile app for his patients. He said, “A few years ago I heard a speaker say that when the UPS driver delivered a package to the average doctors office, the little hand held device he carried doubled the computing power one would typically find in a doctors office. Fortunately in recent years, practicing physicians have begun to embrace electronic medical records, computerized billing, and promotional websites and have become more techno-savvy.”

The study authors concluded that adding a personal digital assistant and telephone coaching significantly enhanced short-term weight loss in combination with an existing system of care. They added that the next step is to decipher which specific features of the mobile technology – convenience, personalization, or interactivity, for example – make it successful for weight loss. “As weight loss surgeons, an important part of our role is to maximize patient motivation and engagement. In my practice, we try to use a variety of tools to reach a variety of patients: Facebook, Twitter, a YouTube channel, and a smartphone app. Anything that helps keep patients engaged is beneficial,” Fusco concluded.

Related Reading: Technology to Measure Energy Balance

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