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Trial Shows Smartphone App Effective for Weight Loss

My Meal Mate opening screen (Google Play)

My Meal Mate opening screen (Google Play)

Food scientists at University of Leeds in the U.K. found a smartphone app helped participants in a clinical trial better manage their food intake and lose weight compared to a food diary on a Web site or on paper. The findings of the team led by Leeds’s epidemiology professor Janet Cade, appear online in today’s issue of the Journal of Internet Medical Research.

The study tested an Android smartphone app called My Meal Mate designed by Leeds nutritional scientists and written by software company Blueberry Consultants. My Meal Mate keeps track of an individual’s food intake and exercise, using a food-composition database from Weight Loss Resources in the U.K. The app also lets users set a weight loss target, and provides a weekly progress report by text message.

The trial tested My Meal Mate against a food diary kept online, but on a conventional Web site, and a food diary kept on paper. A total of 128 overweight subjects were randomly assigned to one of the three conditions. The trial continued for six months, with weight and body-fat measurements and questionnaires administered six weeks into the trial, as well as at the end of the six months.

The results show the smartphone app participants used their systems more often and lost more weight than their counterparts with the Web site or paper diaries. On average, smartphone app participants used their systems every other day, while Web site and paper diaries were used about once a week. After six months, smartphone app participants lost an average of 4.6 kilograms (about 10 pounds), while Web site diarists lost 2.9 kilograms (6.5 pounds), and paper diary users lost 1.3 kilograms (3 pounds).

“The labeling on food packaging can help people to identify sensible food choices but it doesn’t enable them to understand the cumulative effects of the foods they eat,” says Cade. “Keeping a food diary allows us to see where we might be eating too much and the app has proved to be the most effective tracking method by far.”

The app is available for Android smartphones only and available for free from the Google Play store.

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