DIETING
September 3, 2012

Losing Weight Online

People who go online to lose weight are more successful than those who go it alone. But there's still a better way.

We’ve all heard that technology can give us a little boost when it comes to attaining our goals. Cell phone tips and Internet programs can help us quit smoking or lose weight. A new study confirms that the Internet can help us lose weight and keep it off – but it’s still no match for the help of a human.

The World Health Organization projects that 1.5 billion people will be overweight or obese by the year 2015, which is just around the corner. If this is true, and the trends suggest that it may well be, we need better tools to lose weight. Researchers at several institutions compared different weight loss methods to see how successful they are, relative to one another.

The authors say their next study will compare these devices to basic Internet programs, suspecting that they will be even more helpful, since they are always “on” and able to provide help with a flick of the finger.

They found that people who took part in computer or Internet-based weight loss programs lost more weight and kept it off better than those who had minimal help (for example, those who simple received pamphlets about weight loss). But people who had one-on-one help from a weight loss professional lost more weight and kept it off more successfully than either of the other two groups, suggesting that there really is something sacred about face-to-face contact. The differentiation between losing weight and keeping it off is important, since there are different methods associated with each.

"Computer or web-based weight management programmes 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," said study author L. Susan Wieland in a news release.

The study did not include smartphones in its analysis, which are becoming increasingly popular. The authors say their next study will compare these devices to basic Internet programs, suspecting that they will be even more helpful, since they are always “on” and able to provide help with a flick of the finger. The current study does illustrate that the Internet is certainly better than nothing – but it still doesn’t beat the help of a real person.

The research was led by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and published in Cochrane Systematic Reviews.

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