Simply recommending a calorie-counting app to overweight people and giving them access to it on their phones does not lead to weight loss, according to a new study.
The findings don’t mean calorie-counting apps don’t work for people who want to lose weight. Instead, simply recommending it does not lead to weight loss, compared to people who don’t get a recommendation to use an app.
Apps can be a powerful tool for people who are ready to track calories, but it’s not for everybody to lose weight.
The researchers wanted to know whether introducing the popular MyFitnessPal app to overweight adults at two primary care centers in Los Angeles would lead to weight loss over six months. The participants all said they were interested in losing weight.
MyFitnessPal is one of the most positively reviewed apps in the Apple and Android app stores. The free app has more than 50 million registered users. In addition to allowing users to track calories and exercise, the app allows people to set goals, integrate data from other devices and receive feedback from a social network.
Of the 212 people in the study, half were told about the app; research assistants helped download the application on their smartphones and checked in a week later to help with technical problems. The other half was told about the study, but they were not told the name of the app. Instead, they were told to choose their own activities to lose weight.
Overall, those who used the app were happy with it, but use dropped sharply after the first month.
Additionally, there was no significant difference in weight or blood pressure between the two groups after six months. More people in the app group reported increased use of a daily calorie goal, however.
While just introducing the app to people in general did not lead to overall weight loss in the group, the researchers found there was a subgroup of people who appeared to use it successfully.
In fact, the person who used the app most also lost the most weight – about 30 pounds. That person was in the comparison group, which wasn’t told about the app.
The researchers recommend MyFitnessPal to patients who want to lose weight and enjoy smartphone apps.
According to a spokesperson for MyFitnessPal, Inc. “Eighty-eight percent of people who log in for seven days will lose weight; the more you use it, the more weight you lose.”
Merely recommending the app may not lead to weight loss if people are not motivated to track calories, because tracking calories is a fair bit of work. You have to be committed to spend five minute to track calories per meal.
Calorie-counting apps are not a magic bullet. They help you lead a healthy lifestyle, but you have to be motivated to do the work.
Source: Annals of Internal Medicine, online November 17, 2014.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.