Smartphone weight loss app effective for self-monitoring of diet, activity

A pilot trial of a smartphone app has shown it to be a "feasible and acceptable" weight loss intervention compared to a website and paper diary, according to new research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

A sample of 128 overweight volunteers were randomized to receive a weight management intervention delivered by smartphone app, website, or paper diary. Adherence to dietary self-monitoring was found to be statistically and significantly higher in the smartphone group than the website and paper diary group, the article found. 

The aim of the six-month study was to collect acceptability and feasibility outcomes of a self-monitoring weight management intervention delivered by a smartphone app developed by a University of Leeds research team in the U.K. using an evidence-based behavioral approach. The Android-based smartphone app called My Meal Mate incorporates goal setting, self-monitoring of diet and activity, and feedback via weekly text message. 

"Although there have been studies of texting-based interventions and smartphone applications used as adjuncts to other treatments, there are currently no randomized controlled trials of a stand-alone smartphone application for weight loss that focuses primarily on self-monitoring of diet and physical activity," concludes the article. "To our knowledge, there have been no large RCTs of smartphone apps for weight loss and this pilot trial provides valuable data that could be used to inform such a trial."

The My Meal Mate app allows users to set a weight loss goal and self-monitor daily calorie intake toward achieving that goal. Users select the food and drink consumed from a database and log items in an electronic food diary. Physical activity can also be recorded in the diary enabling the user to receive instant feedback on their energy expenditure. Progress is tracked graphically and further support is provided through tailored weekly text messages. 

In addition, the app has several usability features, such as the ability to take photographs of food to serve as a memory aid, and store favorite meal combinations and recently used items. A unique feature of the app is the large U.K.-specific branded food database that contains 23,000 food and drink records that reflect both generic and branded items.

According to a recent article in JAMA, mobile app self-monitoring of physical activity and dietary intake among overweight adults participating in a weight loss program are more effective than traditional methods. The study involved a post hoc analysis of a six-month randomized weight loss trial among 96 overweight men and women conducted from 2010 to 2011.

The study found that physical activity app users self-monitored exercise more frequently over the six-month study and reported greater intentional physical activity than non-app users.  

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