Though extremely popular, weight loss apps may not really deliver the kinds of help proven to be most effective in shedding pounds and keeping them off. This was the conclusion of a study published in the October, 2013 issues of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The study evaluated 30 weight loss apps listed in the top 100 downloaded apps in both iPhone and Android platforms by rating each app in terms of the number of behavioral weight-loss strategies offered. The behavioral strategies were drawn from the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), which the study's authors describe as "evidence-based lifestyle interventions." These interventions include behavioral strategies ranging from the establishment of a weight loss goal to stress reduction, overcoming negative thinking, identification of problem social cues, and time management.
The results? No app made the cut in terms of including a wide range of behavioral strategies. Although most apps included weight and dietary goal-setting, self-monitoring, and calorie balance, authors found that all of the apps were completely lacking in 7 strategies: stress reduction, relapse prevention, social cues, negative thinking, regulating eating patterns, time management, and instruction on reading nutritional labels. The study also concluded that paid apps were no more likely to include behavioral strategies than free ones.
The conclusions reached in the study are consistent with approaches to weight loss taken by physical therapists (PTs), which emphasize focusing on building a healthy lifestyle over a fixation on pounds lost. APTA's Move Forward website offers tips for families on how to encourage changes that will contribute to long-term health.
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