Weight Loss and Technology: Do Smartphone Apps Really Help?

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Is an app or website best for losing weight? Image by miniyo73

Is an app or website best for losing weight? Image by miniyo73

With the constant expansion of technology into every facet of our everyday lives, the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds wondered whether a smartphone app would help with weight loss.

There are currently many apps available for those trying to lose weight, including MyFittnessPal, Weight Watchers, and various calorie counters. The University of Leeds created their own app, My Meal Mate (MMM), and put it to the test against websites and diaries for tracking.

Weight Loss Capabilities: A 6 Month Study

The randomized controlled trial lasted six months, and started with 128 volunteers. All of these volunteers had to have a starting BMI of over 27, to make sure that they had enough weight to lose safely over the six month period. People already trying to lose weight were accepted into the trial, but not those on any anti-obesity medication.

The group was split into three, with a third using the smartphone app, a third using a website and a third tracking weight loss through a diary. At the end of the six months, 93% of those using the smartphone were still following the trial, while 45% and 47% of the website and diary groups dropped out, respectively.

Losing Weight: Does an App Really Make It Easier?

The MMM app did not give any guidance on the types of foods to eat, unlike some of the other paid plans available. Users had freedom to eat anything that they wanted, as long as they tracked the amount of calories that they ate. The app had a full database of all the foods available in the United Kingdom, including many from restaurants and takeaways.

Decoded Science asked Prof. Janet Cade how people tracked when they ate out and didn’t know the brands, and she explained that users would have to choose the items that most closely resembled the foods they’d eaten.

The trial did find that many people preferred the convenience of the app and it made it easier to track more often. In fact, two from the website group downloaded an app to help them track. The problems came with the bugs in the app, which meant that some in the smartphone group had to rely on other methods of tracking — seven people reported using a weight loss website.

Weight Loss Tracking on the Go: Convenience Counts

Tracking with the app was extremely easy, and most people found it a convenient way to track in public. MMM gives users the ability to take photos of the food to make it possible to track later in the day, which is also a discreet way to track calorie intake while others are around.

People using the website and dairy found tracking while on the move much harder since they didn’t offer a discreet method of calorie counting. Those who were in the website group would have to wait until they were home and hope they remembered everything. One person in the diary group wanted a convenient way of tracking, and downloaded a free tracking app from the Internet instead of using the diary.

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