Healthcare Technology Featured Article

November 12, 2012

Weight loss Apps - Do they Work?

The need to drop a few extra pounds is probably at the top of many people’s to- do lists today as the obesity epidemic continues to climb. Here in the U.S. alone, the CDC reported 35.7 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of children are obese, and future projections on the population are also looking grim.

One report by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation thinks more than half of U.S. adults are going to be obese by 2030 if we don’t do something now.

To help in this fight against fat, modern technology has developed tools and technologies aimed at making the task and motivation to keep going, easier. There are thousands of mobile apps on the market today all targeted at helping users find better ways to eat, count calories, and get up and move. Navigating through this sea of options can be as difficult as tying up shoelaces and getting started for most users already bogged down with the burden of a new lifestyle change.

Technology is still a winning factor in tacking the battle, however; as more users turn to online options for everything from group support, to tools, and advice. 

Recent analysis from Cochrane Collaboration published in The Journal of American Medical Association even found that online weight loss programs have results so similar to face-to-face, in-person group meetings that, “computer-based interventions have a positive effect on short-term weight loss and short-term weight loss maintenance.”The study also noted that as worker become more remote, and are now working on flexible schedules, new lifestyle adoptions to weight loss tools must also occur. Online programs are beneficial because they fit into this new lifestyle, and people can log right into a website and enter info. into a food diary, speak with their peers and consultants as well as see progress charts, and even look for healthy recipes, without having to drive to a standard location at a set time once a week. This is made even more beneficial, when users can access all these tools from their smartphone, regardless where they are.

Another recent study by Kiip took a look at fitness apps that offer users rewards for their achievements.

Conducted by David Broockman, a researcher studying at UC Berkeley, the study looked primarily at the mobile rewards network’s offerings and the effect it had on app user engagement. Based on the findings, users are happy to gain rewards and app creators and brands are realizing “phenomenal engagement rates.”

Brian Wong, CEO and co-founder of Kiip noted that, “Fitness is the perfect app vertical to showcase the power of rewards.”

“When we expanded our vision to reward the entire digital ecosystem, we launched the Kiip Fitness Channel as a way to directly help fitness app developers in our network build a stable user base, successfully retain that audience and monetize their apps – all while enhancing the user experience. For a mobile rewards platform to make people want to exercise more is indicative of a model that is truly forming meaningful connections between brands and consumers.”

Despite the fact that there are so many options out there for weight loss, there is still a disconnect with helping people achieve their weight loss goals, according to researchers from Bringham Young University.

The reason? According to researchers the apps themselves must be built by teams of experts in the health and psychology field, not just rely on app developers and social media experts. Including these experts in the development could help ensure apps are successful by creating more personalized user apps and improved social support.

I took some time recently to catch up with Rachel Berman, Director of Nutrition for, a free health and wellness website to find out more about the types of criteria successful mobile weight loss apps should include and the difference between using your phone to try and lose weight attending a support meeting in person.

 Can you offer the top 3 – 5 must haves in a successful weightless app? What should users immediately look for before they download?

-An extensive food database. If the app doesn’t have the foods you’re eating, you won’t be able to accurately track your calorie and nutrient intake.

-Community support. Weight loss is more successful with support and having a strong, vibrant community provides the motivation to stick with healthy habits.

- Detailed nutrition analysis. Calories are important but so is getting enough of the right types of foods for your health.

Our app has all of the tools to help the user successfully lose weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Is there any research around the success rate of users that make a habit of using mobile apps for weight loss? Do you think a quality app can replace a one-on-one with a nutritionist or a meeting with groups/coaches?

People who log their foods have been shown to be more successful reaching their goals. If you aren’t aware of the nutritional content of what you’re eating, receiving a nutrient analysis can be eye-opening for you and be enough to foster positive changes and weight loss. However, I believe nothing can truly replace the individual attention and care given by in-person healthcare professionals.

How trust worthy are apps out there? If someone is searching/choosing a food item they have eaten or adding in an exercise they had completed for the day – will the calculations be accurate or is there another level these apps do not reach in truthfully recording calories taken in and/or calorie burned for individual users?

If the nutrition information is accurate for foods on the website, and the user is diligent about correctly measuring portion sizes, then the calculations should match up. However, arriving at an accurate number of calories burned can be difficult simply by choosing the exercise from a list. While our site does take into account your age, sex, height and weight when determining calories burned during a particular activity, we can’t measure your body composition or intensity.

In what ways can mobile devices and social media be developed further in your opinion to help combat the obesity epidemic – are there any particular projects in the works that users should keep their eyes out for?

While all of our tools at are free, we do have a paid subscription service that provides additional support from a dietitian. The dietitian takes a look at your food logs and analysis weekly and offers health coaching and recommendations for change. This adds a layer of accountability that a user might not have from keeping track on their own.

Edited by Allison Boccamazzo
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