Obesity Treatment Online Programs Show Promise
August 17, 2012

Obesity Treatment Online Programs Show Promise

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Computer and internet-based weight management plans are becoming a cost-effective approach to treating overweight or obese people, with the potential to have a major impact on general public health. Being overweight or obese can increase a person's risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and other chronic medical and health conditions. The World Health Organization predicts that the number of obese and overweight people in the world will reach 1.5 billion by 2015.

According to a team of seven researchers, who undertook a Cochrane systematic review, computer and web-based weight management programs may provide a cost effective way of addressing the growing problem of obesity. The researchers, from Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, USA, discovered that delivering weight loss or weight maintenance programs online or by computer significantly helped overweight and obese patients lose and maintain weight in a comfortable setting.

The review focuses on four weight maintenance studies involving 1,603 people and 14 studies of weight loss involving a total of 2,537 people. An individual´s body mass index (BMI) had to be over a certain limit in order to be selected. In weight loss studies, participants lost more weight after six months than those who received no intervention or minimal interventions, but less than those who received treatment face-to-face. Similarly, participants who took part in weight maintenance studies were more successful at keeping off weight than those receiving no or minimal interventions, but less so than who received face-to-face treatment. Minimal interventions included pamphlets being handed out or providing normal care.

According to L. Susan Wieland, PhD, based at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, US, who was the main author of the study, "Computer or web-based weight management programs may be less beneficial than face-to-face interventions, but health care providers have limited opportunities to provide this care, so lower impact treatment approaches need to be considered."

"These large-scale systematic reviews are helpful to determine — using available peer-reviewed studies — what works and what doesn't work, so health care providers can make evidence-based recommendations," said Karina W. Davidson, PhD, director, Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health, Columbia University Medical Center, and an author of the study. "Since more patients are participating in online weight loss or management programs, these results reveal that computer-based delivery can be effective."

"Although their review did not cover smartphones, these could now take the place of desktop computers or laptops in delivering online weight management programmes," the researchers said. "Since we started the review smartphones have become capable of functioning like fully mobile computers with interactive potential similar to that of laptops and desktops," said Wieland. "We hope to include trials of smartphones when we update this review."