Study say weight loss apps fall short
Plenty of smart phone apps claim to aid in weight loss, but new research suggests that many need improvement, particularly in motivating people to continuously track their eating and exercise habits.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, looked at 30 popular weight-loss apps and compared the strategies used in the apps to strategies used in weight loss programs that have been proven effective. On average, the apps included just three or four of the 20 strategies used in the evidence-based weight loss program.
For instance, most apps allow users to set weight loss and calorie goals, which are two strategies also used in the proven program, but only 20 percent of apps told users how many days or minutes they should exercise weekly and none helped users to interpret nutrition labels.
Researchers also found that paid apps had about the same number of strategies as the free apps. The two apps with the most evidence-based strategies were MyNetDiary PRO ($3.99) and MyNetDiary, which is the free version. They each contained 13 of the evidence-based strategies.
The biggest problem with the apps was helping to motivate people to stick with the program. For instance, it lacked the ability to identify factors that trigger people to slip from healthy eating and how to incorporate exercise into their schedule.
Researchers say apps do allow people to connect on social media or receive emails reminders to track their progress, which traditional weight-loss programs do not offer.
Currently researchers are working on a new app called SmartCoach that will ask users to gauge their level of motivation and offer solutions based on database advice from professionals.