Mobile apps + in-person counseling improve weight loss

Mobile technology combined with in-person treatment helps patients lose more weight than the same treatment without mobile support, according to a study published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers monitored the weight loss every three months for a year for a group of 69 adults, most of them men.  The patients in the mobile group lost a mean of 3.1 percent more weight than the control group, and lost more weight at each of the quarterly check points. They also had a significantly greater chance of losing at least 5 percent of their weight at each of the check points.

One of the important findings was that even subjects with minimal fluency in computer technology achieved results. Only nine of the 69 patients were fully fluent in rudimentary computer skills, such as printing documents, but were able to learn what they needed to operate the digital device with a short training session.

Patients in the mobile group received devices on which they could record their activity and what they ate. That information was immediately reported to health professionals monitoring their progress. The patients received 10- to 15-minute coaching calls twice a month for six months, and were offered biweekly weight-loss groups at a Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic for the first six months and once monthly for the rest of the year.

"The app is important because it helps people regulate their behavior, which is really hard to do," Bonnie Spring, lead investigator of the study and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in an announcement. "Most of us have no idea how many calories we consume and how much physical activity we get. The app gives you feedback on this and helps you make smart decisions in the moment."

Although the mobile technology made a significant difference in weight loss, attending support meetings made a difference, too. Participants in the mobile group who also attended at least 80 percent of the biweekly support sessions lost more weight than those attending fewer meetings.

"The addition of a personal digital assistant and telephone coaching can enhance short-term weight loss in combination with an existing system of care," the researchers concluded. "Mobile connective technology holds promise as a scalable mechanism for augmenting the effect of physician-directed weight loss treatment."

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