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Information technology aides weight loss

Researchers from the University of Missouri have found that information technology, such as smartphone applications, can help dieters integrate healthy behavior changes into their daily lives.

Smart phone apps and social support could lead to successful weight loss

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults aged 20 years and older who are overweight including obesity is now at 69.2%. Individuals who are overweight or obese lead to chronic health problems including type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Although weight loss decreases this risk, statistics show that dieters often fail multiple times before meeting their goals.

Commercial producers have outpaced traditional academic healthcare in terms of novel repackaging of traditional approaches to weight control for online delivery. However, little Is known about consumers' experiences with such products and services.

In this new study Dr. Cheryl Shigaki, PhD, ABPP, associate professor in the MU School of Health Professions and colleagues examined transcripts of audiotaped material from three focus groups, each with 12 participants. Participants were recruited from an ongoing, community-wide weight-loss event, who reported regular or frequent use of information technology.

The results showed participants frequently used apps for completing functional tasks associated with weight loss. Information technology applications facilitated integration of behavior change tasks into everyday life.

In their conclusion the researchers write “In terms of patient care, successful health portals may benefit from either developing or integrating existing IT applications that save time and/or provide users with visual feedback on progress toward goals. IT-delivered resources would likely optimize community-based behavioral health interventions that target naturally occurring social groups.”

. Smartphone apps can increase access to information, and people generally are willing to explore many different weight loss applications, Dr. Shigaki said. Although use of those apps may increase participants’ engagement and persistence, individuals still must practice accountability for their health behaviors to succeed, she adds.

According to Dr. Shigaki “When people use information technology to support their weight-loss efforts, they tend to access features that streamline the tracking of daily health behaviors, such as caloric intake and exercise, or that provide visual feedback on their overall progress, like graphs showing weight lost over time.” “Self-monitoring is key to successful weight loss, and information technology can make these tasks more convenient. We also found that people really liked getting feedback on their progress, which motivated them and helped them better evaluate their health behaviors and plan for future success.”

The results also showed that in-person social support was overwhelmingly preferred to creating new, online social networks based on common interests in wellness.

Dr. Shigaki recommends that community health initiatives, such as workplace wellness programs, incorporate existing wellness apps to streamline behavior tracking while encouraging and enhancing in-person social support that information technologies cannot replace.

Dr. Shigaki comments “People value workplace support, but companies probably should not attempt to develop their own social networking portals, which already exist and may not provide added value.” “They can get expensive very quickly. Organizations do not need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when wellness programs can take advantage of information technologies consumers already use.”

This study is published in Journal of Telemedicine and e-Health.


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