News: First Study Reveals Weight Loss Apps Could Really Work

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

“Eat less, move more!” “Carbs kill!” “Just say no!”

These are just a few of the weight loss mantras we hear every day. But “grab your phone!” may be the next solid piece of advice. A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found using a mobile device was more effective in helping people lose weight than tracking diets on paperIntegrating Technology Into Standard Weight Loss Treatment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Spring, B., Duncan, J.M., Janke, E.A., et al. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2012 Dec 10: 1-7..

The Study
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In this year-long study, researchers compared the effectiveness of a mobile device versus tracking diets by hand in order to lose weight. Researchers studied 70 overweight adults (mostly men) who averaged 58 years old. Some people logged their daily eats and workouts with plain pen and paper, and others were given a mobile tracking device and biweekly telephone calls from a personal coach. All participants were offered group nutrition classes.

The results showed volunteers who used the mobile app andattended nutrition classes lost the most weight — an average of 15 pounds. Participants who used the app and didn’t attend the classes lost nearly nine pounds, while the group who tracked their diets by hand without outside support barely lost any weight.

Can We Trust It?

The participants in the study are arguably less tech-savvy than Generation Y, which may leave people wondering if the results would be different with a younger crowd. The researchers also developed their own personal digital assistant, which isn’t exactly the same thing as a modern weight loss app someone can download on an iPhone 5. And remember — most mobile apps don’t come with a coach. Only the group using digital tracking received telephone calls from personal coaches, which could definitely skew results toward digital tracking over pen and paper.

Why It Matters

It’s old news that tracking food intake could lead to losing a few poundsSelf- monitoring in weight loss: a systematic review of the literature. Burke, L.E., Wang, J., Sevick, M.A. School of Nursing and Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2011;111(1)-92-102. But with all the noise surrounding various weight loss apps, it’s cool to see a study finally put something very similar to the test. Plus, most health tracking apps are reasonably priced (or free!) — making weight loss something that’s attainable and affordable for anyone.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway is that researchers found tracking diet and fitness in addition to coaching and classes was most effective for weight loss — reminding people that there’s no “one way” to lose weight. If you want to shed a few pounds, an app may help, but don’t forget the importance of social support, too.

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