Apps alone won’t help weight loss, finds study
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Apps alone won’t help weight loss, finds study

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Weight loss apps are no more effective in helping overweight people shed pounds than a paper flier from the doctor’s office, according to a new study.

The findings from the Duke University School of Medicine, published online by the journal Obesity, suggest that support from qualified weight loss coaches is needed for the apps to have a significant impact.

The research highlights the complexities of weight loss and potential limitations of an app-based approach. The study featured tech-savvy adults ages 18 to 35 but showed that despite being inexpensive and easily accessed, weight loss apps alone are unlikely to make more of a difference.

“Thirty-five percent of this age-group is overweight or obese, and that’s a huge public health problem,” said Laura P. Svetkey, M.D., the study’s lead author and 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.”

The randomised study included 365 people aged 18 to 35 who were overweight or obese. One group of participants used a free Android app called CITY which 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 two pounds after two years – no more than participants in a control group that received paper handouts about exercise and nutrition.

“For some people it did work,” Svetkey said. “But on average, the difference with the control group was insignificant. This doesn’t mean cell phone apps can’t work for weight control, but this one didn’t.”

However, in a separate arm of the study, participants received personal coaching from a weight loss coach. 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 eight pounds after 12 months, compared to about five pounds in the control group.

This is not the first piece of research to cast doubt on the efficacy of certain weight loss and activity apps without proper support from wellbeing professionals. Researchers recently concluded that the majority of free fitness apps are falling well short of users’ needs, with only one of 30 popular free fitness apps for iPhones meets the majority of guidelines for physical activity from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Despite this, there has been widespread acknowledgement that exercise and wellbeing professionals need to take significant strides to improve their knowledge of apps and wearable tech, so that they are able to offer proper guidance to clients and play a more prominent role in public health initiatives.

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Weight loss apps are no more effective in helping overweight people shed pounds than a paper flier from the doctor’s office, according to a new study.
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