Smartphone app not a weight loss silver bullet, Duke researchers find

Smartphone apps tracking calories, weight loss goals and physical exercise aren't enough to help young adults striving to lose pounds, reveals a Duke University Medical Center study published in the journal Obesity.

The researchers had hoped the results of the study, which involved patients using a cellphone weight loss app, would show that mHealth can benefit patients between 18 and 35 who are dealing with obesity. However, they were disheartened to find that both the control group and the group using the app only lost about two pounds after two years. The study involved 365 participants.

"We thought 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," Laura P. Svetkey, M.D., study lead author and professor of medicine, said in an announcement.

"For some people it did work," she added. "But on average, the difference with the control group was insignificant. This doesn't mean cellphone apps can't work for weight control, but this one didn't." 

However, more studies are set to be conducted on mHealth's impact on helping patients with eating issues. In 2017, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai plans to study the impact an mHealth app has on patients suffering from binge eating.

The Duke results also are a stark contrast to the impact many mHealth apps are having on other health issues, including spina bifida, diabetes and COPD.  

Duke researchers, as part of the study, also investigated coaching in weight loss efforts. The personal intervention element, proved more effective than app use, according to Svetkey.

For more information:
- read the Duke University Medical Center announcement
- here's the research abstract