Online weight management effective, but not as much as in-person care

Online programs geared toward weight management are helpful for patients who have little to no contact with physicians, but aren't as effective as face-to-face visits, according to new research.

The study was a retrospective look at 18 different studies--14 weight loss studies with more than 2,500 participants and four more on weight maintenance that included more than 1,600 participants. After the six-month mark in both sets of studies, weight loss and regain results proved more positive for those receiving computer-based interventions when compared with those receiving minimal interventions (pamphlets, for instance).

"Computer or web-based weight management programs may be less beneficial than face-to-face interventions, but healthcare providers have limited opportunities to provide this care, so lower impact treatment approaches need to be considered," lead study author L. Susan Wieland, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a statement.

Fellow study author Karina Davidson, Ph.D., who serves as director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center, said that the study's importance is increased because of the increasing propensity of patients to seek treatment online. "These large-scale systematic reviews are helpful to determine--using available peer-reviewed studies--what works and what doesn't work, so healthcare providers can make evidence-based recommendations," Davidson said.

The study's results--particularly in light of the fact that face-to-face care continually outshined technology-based care--only add to the growing dialogue surrounding technology's role in helping to keep individuals healthy. Researchers in April found that computerized geographic information systems had potential to help analyze childhood obesity trends, which could help with prevention efforts, but that's not the same as individual patients using technology for weight management purposes.

Researchers from the University of Toronto determined earlier this year that online tools that help diabetics manage their care often fail to live up to their potential.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- read the accompanying announcement

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