Are Weight-Loss Apps Worth the Money?

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It used to be that people trying to lose weight were always looking for the latest diet book. Now they seem to be seeking out the newest weight-loss app to help them reach their weight goals. But these high-tech tools may only cause you to lose money, not pounds, a new study says.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts compared the top 30 most popular weight-loss apps (both free and paid) from iTunes and the Android Market to 20 behavior-based weight-loss strategies developed by the Centers for Disease Control’s Diabetes Prevention Plan. Strategies including portion control, problem solving to figure out why people over eat, and stress reduction have been scientifically proven effective by the CDC program—but 28 of the apps reviewed included only 25 percent or fewer of these tactics. Many of the apps did, however, feature food logging, which seems to be an effective tool in weight loss.

I am a bit bewildered by these findings, mainly because I think the benefits of these apps depend on why the users chose them. For example, if a person just needed a place to food log and they prefer all things technological, then I would think an app with that capability would be a good thing. I am a big fan of food journaling and have seen real success from my patients who are committed to doing it daily, and it doesn't make much difference if they use their phone, a computer, or pen and paper; they only need to be consistent.

RELATED: The Best Healthy Living Apps for Weight Loss

On the other hand, if a person was using an app for daily motivation, perhaps that is where it may fall short. I recently downloaded an app to remind me to drink water daily, but I never even set up the alerts. While I like to check out new apps for my patients, half the time setting them up and getting started is a chore for me to begin with.

So maybe I am not an app person, but it seems that every other day one of my patients comes in using a new one and is generally excited. The thing is, probably more than half of my patients grow bored after just a couple of weeks and move on to another app. If this keeps them in the weight-loss game, I’m okay with it. If they stop using an app but also stop being accountable, that is not okay.

What it really comes down to is that the app is only as good as the user. A motivated and committed person perhaps can get anything to work positively for them compared to an easily discouraged and less-committed one. Maybe what are really needed are apps that are more individualized to take into consideration the personality of the user, just like I do for my patients. I guess at the moment nothing really beats face-to-face motivation for weight loss.

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