Self-monitoring using digital health tools related to weight loss: study

In a recent study, researchers found that using digital health tools to self-monitor health was associated with weight loss.

The results of the study were published in “Obesity”, the flagship journal of the Obesity Society.

A systematic review of several randomized controlled studies in overweight or obese adults found that greater involvement in self-monitoring using digital health tools was associated with significant weight loss. This is the first comprehensive systematic review to examine the relationship between digital self-monitoring and weight loss.

“Digital health tools have flourished over the past decade,” said Michele L. Patel, PhD, postdoctoral researcher, Stanford Prevention Research Center, Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California.

“What this article sought to explore was whether tracking through these digital tools is effective in producing greater weight loss,” added Patel, who is the corresponding author of the study.

Given the widespread prevalence of obesity with rates of 42% among American adults and 13% globally, treatment options that have high efficacy, acceptability, and scope are needed.

As noted in previous reviews, interventions using technology-based modalities, including SMS, apps, wearable devices, and websites, often produced similar or less weight loss than in-person interventions, but better than that of the control arms; however, these reviews did not focus on self-monitoring.

Current research fills this gap and contributes to the science of engagement in behavioral interventions.

Conducted according to the guidelines for Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyzes, the review included 39 randomized controlled studies of behavioral weight loss interventions in overweight or obese adults using digital health technologies to self-monitoring.

Six databases – PubMed, EMBASE, Scopus, PsycInfo, CINAHL, and ProQuest Dissertations and Theses – were searched for studies that included interventions of 12 weeks or more duration, weighted outcomes of six months or more, and results on self-monitoring engagement and their relationship to weight loss. The studies were published between January 2009 and September 2019.

Among the 67 interventions with digital self-monitoring, weight was monitored in 72% of them, diet in 81% and physical activity in 82%. Websites were the most common technological self-monitoring tools, followed by apps, wearable devices, electronic scales, and text messaging. No studies have used social media platforms for self-monitoring.

Digital self-monitoring was linked to weight loss in 74% of cases. This trend was found in the three main behaviors tracked (food intake, physical activity and body weight). Few interventions had digital self-monitoring engagement rates greater than 75% of days. Rates were higher in digital tools than in print journals in 21 of 34 comparisons.

“This may be due to the fact that many digital tools are highly portable and therefore allow the user to track at any time of the day; digital tools can also make tracking faster and perhaps less tedious to use, ”Patel said.

“Since previous reviews conducted before the emergence of these new tools have established that self-monitoring also plays a key role in sustaining weight loss (i.e. preventing weight gain) ), a critical next step for our field is to examine how we can help maintain engagement with these tools over the longer term after the initial novelty wears off, ”said Assistant Professor Kathryn M. Ross, PhD, MPH , Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville. Ross was not associated with the research.

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