Study: Weight-loss app as part of dieting plan unsuccessful

A physician's recommendation to incorporate a weight-loss app into a dieting regimen doesn't get far with patients striving to lose pounds, reveals a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars and led by Brian Yoshio Laing, a primary care physician at the Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center in Los Angeles, reveals physician encouragement to use MyFitnessPal in a dieting effort doesn't make much difference in weight loss achievement.

"A 15- to 20-minute visit is just not enough time for physicians to address all our patients' needs, which is why we hoped a simple phone-based tool could help patients lose weight," Laing said in an announcement on the study.

The app lets users monitor caloric intake by documenting food intake. It was provided to one group of patients in the study while a second group did not have use of the app. After six months, the MyFitnessPal users had not lost any more weight than the non-app users, according to the study.

One reason may be that the software doesn't engage users as much as it should, Laing told FierceMobileHealthcare in an email. A second reason is that users may not make the needed commitment to use the app as required.

"I think most patients were simply not ready to commit the time to track calories--it takes several minutes to input in everything you eat for each meal. The most common reason patients gave for not using the app was they felt they were too busy or that it was too tedious. The majority of patients, however, gave the app very positive reviews and many enjoyed getting feedback on their daily caloric intake," Laing said.

While healthcare apps have come under fire for being behind the eight ball in delivering on the enormous promise of mHealth tech some are gaining ground with two thirds of Americans, about 65 percent, using a smartphone and just over half of those, 34 percent, using at least one mobile app related to living a healthy lifestyle, according to Gallup research. In addition, 19 percent routinely use the apps to foster personal well-being.

MyFitnessPal's social networking and self-monitoring features, noted Laing, are elements that previous research indicates can play important roles in weight loss efforts. The use of gaming in such apps could also boost a dieter's efforts, he adds. 

For more information:
- read the announcement
- check out the study abstract

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