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Is Your Slimmer Self Waiting Online?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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online weight loss program

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/Yuri_Arcurs

Losing weight and keeping it off is a common goal—and constant challenge—for millions of Americans. And people spend loads of cash on specialized diet and weight loss programs, meetings, even personal coaches. But could something as easy, accessible and affordable as an online program help people trim down?

With the rising rates of people who are overweight or obese, researchers have been trying to find cost-effective ways to help more people lose more weight—more easily. A new review of 18 randomized studies finds that computer-based and online programs do, indeed, help people who are overweight or obese drop weight and maintain that progress. The 143-page analysis, which assessed data from 4,140 adults, was published online this week in the Cochrane Library.

After following a computer or online weight-loss program for six months, participants in various studies shed more pounds than those who received more basic care, such as a paper workbook or pamphlet. Individuals who were in weight-maintenance programs that used computer-guided tools also kept weight off better than those who got the basic care. The online programs often included interactive features, message boards and messaging capabilities. Although there were variances in how long the studies followed subjects, the review authors were able to conclude that, “Computer-based interventions have a positive effect on short-term weight loss and short-term weight loss maintenance.”

Some of the studies also included a group of subjects who were placed in-person weight-loss programs, such as weekly or monthly meetings. Those individuals tended to lose the most weight overall. “But health care providers have limited opportunities to provide this care,” said Susan Wieland, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, and lead-author of the analysis, in a prepared statement. Finding a less labor- and resource-intensive way to help more people lose weight—even if that weight loss is only moderate—could make a big difference on the national or global scale.

“These large-scale systematic reviews are helpful to determine—using available peer-reviewed studies—what works and what doesn’t work,” noted Karina Davidson, director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center and study co-author, in a prepared statement. With the new findings, “health care providers can make evidence-based recommendations,” she said—especially “since more patients are participating in online weight loss or management programs.” The new review did not include smartphone or tablet-based apps, but the researchers hope to include studies of those when they update the review in the future.

With 1.5 billion people worldwide expected to be overweight or obese in 2015—just a year and a half from now—the global burden of related, preventable health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, is expected to continue rising. In the U.S., obesity is already a taking a bigger toll on health than smoking. The latest results suggest that simply logging to an interactive program could help many more people spare themselves the weight as well as future medical trouble.

Katherine Harmon Courage About the Author: Katherine Harmon Courage is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Scientific American. Her book Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea is out now from Penguin/Current. Follow on Twitter @KHCourage.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. sinann 4:47 pm 08/17/2012

    Tried a couple but still 25 pounds high. Which ones work the best?

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  2. 2. brublr 9:33 am 08/18/2012

    One can maintain one’s slimmer self by eating only this TINY amount of food. Accept this truth. Eat less if you desire to lose weight. Use appetite suppressants I like Life Extension’s Calorie Control w/ coffeegenic and metamuscil which will kill it pretty well(but there’s plenty of others – Raspberry Ketones and such)which will cost less than the cost of the food you’d otherwise eat. Exercise for 30-60 min like jogging will help reduce appetite also. Lost 60 lbs once this way but carelessness brought it back and body is now more efficient using food. Now down 25 of that 60 and realize that appetite suppressants in my own case will be indefinitely required.

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  3. 3. Driftless 10:40 am 08/22/2012

    I’ve used the Weight Watchers Online since May. It has really worked quite well for me – I’ve dropped 15lbs in these last four months. Prior to joining that program, I had really struggled to consistently shed the extra weight.

    The Weight Watchers method has a pretty good track record, but like most things may not work for everyone. Their online format has been a very helpful tool for me. It’s fairly straight-forward, but does require diligent and consistent entries for what you’ve been eating. I’m a “grazer”, so keeping track of my consumption throughout the day helps me to not go overboard.

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  4. 4. jennifersoderstrom 12:22 am 08/23/2012

    I have found CalorieKing and caloriecount to be really helpful in weightloss and weight maintenance. CalorieKing has better social networking and no ads but caloriecount is free. Both have aps that work pretty good as well.

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