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College students who used cellphones to monitor calories and physical activity and received personalized feedback about how they were doing dropped significantly more weight than those who didn’t, new research shows.
“Cellphones are a powerful intervention tool for weight loss,” says lead author Melissa Napolitano, a research scientist at the Center for Obesity Research and Education and an associate professor of kinesiology at Temple University in Philadelphia.
She and colleagues recruited 52 overweight college students, mostly women, who weighed an average of 190 pounds, and assigned them to one of three plans. Here’s a look at the plans and how much the dieters lost in eight weeks:
•A Facebook-only group where students received eating and exercise advice online on topics such as setting goals, monitoring food intake, portion control, liquid calories, physical activity and stress eating. Dieters were in a private Facebook group and could get support from other members. They also viewed podcasts.
At a glance
Facebook-only group: Dieters got eating and exercise advice on Facebook.
Average loss: 1.4 pounds
Facebook-plus group: Got advice on Facebook plus personalized feedback via text messages.
Average loss: 5.3 pounds.
No advice group: No diet or exercise advice; on waiting list to participate
Average loss: Half a pound.
“We tried to make the podcasts short — one or two minutes,” Napolitano says. “We related everything to college students.”
For instance, in one podcast, students were taught how to resist the pressure of eating pizza when they weren’t hungry. Average loss: 1.4 pounds.
•The Facebook-plus group got the same diet advice online, plus a book of calorie counts and extra help and encouragement via text messages on their cellphones. The dieters received a text message three times a week reminding them to send in their calorie intake and exercise information, then they got feedback on that information. On the other four days, participants received personalized tips and self-monitoring reminders via texts. Average loss: 5.3 pounds.
•A third group was put on a waiting list to participate and got no extra help. Average loss: half pound.
The Facebook-plus group lost the most, which “was relatively modest but it was without any face-to-face contact,” says Napolitano, who reported the findings last week at a meeting of the Obesity Society. “We really wanted to mimic a face-to-face treatment with text messaging.”
Gary Foster, director of Temple’s obesity research center, says dieters often say they need to be held accountable. What text messaging does is “tries to replicate the interaction with a health care professional. There is someone on the other end.”