April 15, 2013
Smartphone Diet App Shows Promise As Effective Weight Loss Tool
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
There are many ways to lose weight. Many have found that the accountability found in a group setting can be beneficial in helping to shed the pounds. Others swear by keeping a food journal and counting calories as a sure-fire way to slim down.
Many of these tools incorporate both the accountability aspect as well as the journaling and tracking features used by many traditional weight loss programs.
Teaming up with the app development firm Blueberry Consultants Ltd., the university researchers built an app called “My Meal Mate” to conduct the first ever study to determine whether smartphones are effective tools for weight loss.
The team pitted the app against two other weight-loss tools: the traditional food journal and an online food diary.
Users who download the alliterative app are able to log how much they´ve eaten every day as well as how active they´ve been. They´re also able to set weight loss goals. Once a week, the app sends an update via SMS to the user detailing the previous week and updating them on their goals.
To test the app, the researchers gathered a panel of 128 overweight volunteers and split them into three groups. One group was asked to log their food intake and exercise times online once a week, while the second was asked to record the same information in a paper journal with the same frequency. The third group was asked to monitor their diet with the My Meal Mate app every other day.
At the end of the six-month study, the My Meal Mate dieters had lost an average of ten pounds. Those who logged their meals online lost an average of three pounds and those who used a real paper journal reported losing about six and a half pounds after six months of dieting.
The results of this first-of-its-kind study have been published in the Journal of Internet Medical Research.
Professor Janet Cade from the School of Food Science and Nutrition led the project and said keeping track of daily caloric intake on something as intimate as a smartphone can really be effective.
“Smartphone technology could be harnessed to promote health; generally people don´t know how many calories they are eating daily. My Meal Mate really helped people monitor their food intake and resulted in an important amount of weight loss,” said Cade in a statement.
“The labeling on food packaging can help people to identify sensible food choices, but it doesn´t enable them to understand the cumulative effects of the foods they eat. Keeping a food diary allows us to see where we might be eating too much and the app has proved to be the most effective tracking method by far.”
Those who weren´t able to find nutrition information on a label were still able to effectively track their progress with the app. The developers at Blueberry Consultants integrated a large UK-based food database, containing the nutritional information of all types of foods.
“Whilst we wouldn´t expect people to use My Meal Mate daily for the rest of their lives, it gives them the skills and education to monitor their diet themselves — to have a better understanding of portion sizes, nutritional content and the effect of exercise,” said Michelle Carter, the lead author of the paper.
The My Meal Mate is available now in the Google Play Store and directly from the NHS Choices website. At the time of this writing, the app has only received one user review. This user gave it one star, chiding the weight loss app for not recognizing lard or coffee with double cream.