DIETING
November 17, 2010

Boot Up to Trim Down

Want to lose weight? Let your computer or cell phone help you. Online feedback can improve results.

Looking to lose weight? A new study suggests that going online may help. Adding computer-based feedback to classic weight loss programs increased dieters’ odds of shedding the pounds, one study found.

People who also received computer-based feedback lost significantly more weight than people in the regular program: over twice as much, in fact.

Overweight individuals who took part in a 12-week internet-based weight loss program called Shape Up Rhode Island (SURI) enrolled in one of two parts of the study. The first compared people in the regular program to those who were also offered multimedia (video and PowerPoint™) lessons on nutrition and exercise.

The second part of the study compared people in the regular program to participants who were offered additional help in the form of computer-based feedback. Here, participants monitored their weight, calories consumed, and activity level and then entered the information into the SURI website. The site then gave personalized feedback as to how the participants were doing: and if the participant wasn’t "meeting the suggested goals", the program suggested ways they might do so.

People who took part in the regular SURI program lost about the same amount of weight as those who had the addition of the multimedia lessons. But, as you might guess, people who also received computer-based feedback lost significantly more weight than people in the regular program: over twice as much, in fact. Even more, there were three times the number of people who lost at least 5% of their body weight in the second part of the study compared to the first.

The most effective weight loss methods are usually those that involve one-on-one or group meetings as long-term follow-up. So, as the researchers point out, adding personalized feedback to community-based methods may be a good way to reach a large number of people and still provide tailored support for the individual’s needs and goals.

The study was conducted by researchers at Brown University and will be published in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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