Is tech-based weight loss effective without human guidance?

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated the significance of technology-based weight-loss interventions without human guidance.

The randomized clinical trial included 1,000 participants, divided into two groups: one using tech-based tools and the other as a control group.

The tech-based group used mobile apps, websites and wearable devices to facilitate self-monitoring and goal-setting and provide personalized feedback [1].

Over 12 months, the group using these digital tools achieved a modest but significant average weight loss of about 5% of their initial body weight. In contrast, the control group experienced minimal changes.

Key findings from the study include:

  1. Self-monitoring and feedback: Features that allowed for self-monitoring and provided real-time feedback were particularly effective in aiding weight loss. These tools helped participants remain engaged and motivated.
  2. Personalization: Personalized recommendations, tailored to individual user data such as activity levels and dietary habits, proved more effective than generic advice.
  3. Engagement: Sustained engagement with the digital tools was crucial for success. Participants who actively used the apps and devices saw more significant weight loss than those who did not.
  4. Challenges: Despite the overall positive outcomes, maintaining long-term engagement was challenging. Many participants reduced their use of the apps over time, corresponding to a plateau in their weight loss progress.

The study concluded that while technology-based interventions can be effective for weight loss, their success depends significantly on user engagement and the personalization of the tools. Although human guidance can enhance outcomes, it may not be essential if digital tools are well-designed and user-friendly [2].

This study contributes to the growing evidence that digital health interventions can significantly influence weight management. However, it also highlights the importance of continual innovation to maintain user engagement and motivation over the long term​ [3].

[1] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2818967
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9362065/
[3] https://bmcmededuc.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12909-023-04698-z

Photograph: Prostock-studio/Envato
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