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Information Technology Can Simplify Weight-Loss Efforts

April 29, 2014
by John DeGaspari
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Social support still important for success, study finds

Researchers at the University of Missouri, Columbia, have found that information technology such as smartphone applications can help dieters integrate healthy behavior changes into their daily lives. The study, “Successful Weight Loss: How Information Technology Is Used to Lose,” was recently published in the Journal of Telemedicine and e-Health.

“Current weight loss recommendations are essentially the same as they were decades ago, but each generation has to learn how to manage modern challenges to healthy living,” said Cheryl Shigaki, an associate professor in the MU School of Health Professions, in a prepared statement. “Information technology repackages traditional weight loss strategies and provides new tools, such as exercise logs and nutritional databases, to implement that knowledge.”

According to Shigaki, prior research on weight loss programming has shown that social and informational supports are important for individuals’ dieting success, along with learning skills for self-management, problem-solving and behavior change. Smartphone apps can increase access to information, and people generally are willing to explore many different weight loss applications, she said. Although use of those apps may increase participants’ engagement and persistence, individuals still must practice accountability for their health behaviors to succeed.

“When people use information technology to support their weight-loss efforts, they tend to access features that streamline the tracking of daily health behaviors, such as caloric intake and exercise, or that provide visual feedback on their overall progress, like graphs showing weight lost over time,” Shigaki said. “Self-monitoring is key to successful weight loss, and information technology can make these tasks more convenient. We also found that people really liked getting feedback on their progress, which motivated them and helped them better evaluate their health behaviors and plan for future success.”

Shigaki also studied individuals’ perceptions of IT-based social support during weight loss programs and found that in-person social support was overwhelmingly preferred to creating new, online social networks based on common interests in wellness. She recommends that community health initiatives, such as workplace wellness programs, incorporate existing wellness apps to streamline behavior tracking while encouraging and enhancing in-person social support that information technologies cannot replace.

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