Free Press Journal

Smartphone apps may be ineffective for weight loss


Washington : Smartphone apps that track exercise, calories and weight loss goals may not be enough for young adults to lose weight, according to new study.

The study, by researchers at the Duke University and Northeastern University in US, offers a sober insight about the complexities of weight loss and potential limitations of an app-based approach. The inexpensive and easily accessed tool was aimed at tech-savvy adults ages 18 to 35.

“Thirty-five per cent of this age-group is overweight or obese, and that’s a huge public health problem,” said lead author Laura P Svetkey, professor of medicine at the Duke
University School of Medicine.  “We thought that because this is an age group that is most engaged in technology, it might be possible to intervene and prevent future problems like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and diabetes while they are still developing their lifestyle habits,” Svetkey said.

The randomised study included 365 people ages 18 to 35 who were overweight or obese.  One group of participants used a free Android app called CITY (Cell Phone Intervention for You), which was designed exclusively for the study. Like many commercially available cell phone apps, CITY could be used to track calorie intake, activity and weight loss goals, and also offered weight loss tips and opportunities to connect with other users for social support.

On average, participants who used the app lost about 2 pounds after two years – no more than participants in a control group that received paper handouts about exercise and  nutrition.  In a separate arm of the study, participants received personal coaching from a weight loss coach – a model of  behavioural intervention that some studies have shown to be  more effective but costly, Svetkey said.

Coaches met with participants weekly for six weeks, and  then followed up with monthly phone meetings. Members of the coached group lost more weight on average
than both the control group and the cell phone group – about 8  pounds after 12   months, compared to about 5 pounds in thecontrol group. But after two years, there was no sign that either using  a cell phone app or a personal coach was any more effective than getting a paper flier about weight loss.

All participants were permitted to download other  commercially available weight loss apps such as MyFitnessPal during the two-year period. But there was no significant difference in weight loss between those who used the CITY app and those who added
commercial apps, Svetkey said. The study was published in the journal Obesity.