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ePublication of Australian Fitness Network

The best apps for weight loss have been ranked by experts from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre in a world-first study of their accuracy and scientific basis.

Researchers found considerable inaccuracy and poor scientific basis in many apps, but found Noom Weight Loss Coach (Noom Inc) the most likely to change behaviour and assist weight loss. Australian app Control My Weight (CalorieKing Wellness Solutions) and Calorie Counter Pro (MyNetDiary Inc) were jointly rated the second best apps.

The study is the first in Australia to comprehensively test the quality and evidence base of dietary weight loss apps, and the first in the world to test kilojoule measures reported in the app against the reference standard for Australia.

After examining 800 apps for the study, researchers selected 28 apps that were weight management-specific and allowed for logging food intake. Each app was used for five days and assessed against a range of quality measures: the credibility of their information source; the accuracy and coverage of scientific information; the inclusion of enhanced features (like barcode scanners); usability; and, most importantly, their likelihood of changing health behaviours.

‘Although they’re clearly not perfect for managing weight loss, apps are becoming increasingly popular for both consumers and clinicians’ said lead author Juliana Chen, a dietitian and PhD candidate in the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Science.

The kilojoule measures used in the apps differed by an average of 127 kilojoules (30 calories) from the actual nutritional measure, but this varied significantly between the apps. The worst overestimated by 299 kilojoules (71 calories) and underestimated by 45 kilojoules (11 calories).

Whether you subscribe to the concept of weight loss apps, the fact is that many clients and members do – so it helps if they are at least using ones that paint a more accurate picture. To this end, Chen says there are a few things to consider when choosing an app; ‘Make sure the app comes from a credible source, and that health professionals have been involved in developing it. We found that a large number of weight loss apps are developed by people with little scientific understanding of what would support weight loss.

‘Choose an app which includes techniques for changing behaviour – these were generally the apps which rated the best in our evaluation. Apps that include more motivational components, such as points, levels, feedback, rewards and challenges, are more likely to lead to changes in behaviour.

‘Check to see if the information provided in the app matches up with reliable sources on healthy eating, such as the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

‘Lastly, choose an app that’s easy to use and easy to log your food. This includes using an app with an Australian database of foods.’

However, Chen also cautioned against using apps as a panacea for weight loss woes.

“Using an app to support weight loss can be helpful for people who want to get a better idea of the amount of food and kilojoules they are eating each day. However, you need to be a highly motivated person to maintain the food logging over a prolonged period of time. Many people find the process becomes tedious, and their engagement with the app drops off. What leads to more effective weight loss is using an app in conjunction with weight loss counselling from a health professional who can help you with goal setting and identifying barriers and enablers to follow your plan. This kind of personally tailored advice and feedback unfortunately just isn’t available in an app.’

Source: University of Sydney

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