Teens use smartphones successfully to do almost anything: learn new skills, communicate with friends, do research and catch Pokémon. But a new study finds smartphones aren't as useful for helping teens maintain weight loss. In a 24-week behavioral study that combined traditional weight control intervention with smartphone-assisted helps, researchers found that teens lost weight initially, but couldn't maintain it when smartphones were the only tool helping them stay on track.
The study, published in the Journal of Medical Research took place during two consecutive 12-week periods, the first of which combined electronic (smartphone) intervention and traditional in-person treatment. During this period, each of the 16 participants met weekly with a clinician and other participants to share their experiences and discuss topics like adopting healthy eating patterns, reading food labels and increasing physical activity throughout the day. In addition to these meetings, the teens were encouraged to record their daily food intake and exercise on the Daily Burn app. They also received text messages from the researchers three times each day to encourage healthy behavior and pose thought-provoking questions about motivations.
Study participants achieved modest weight loss during this period, decreasing their BMI by 0.08 points on average.
But the in-person meetings were removed for the second 12 weeks of the study, so the only interventions helping the teens stay motivated were the daily texts and self-monitoring on the Daily Burn app. During this period, self-monitoring rates dropped from nearly 50 percent to 16.8 percent and the teens regained their lost weight.
Jensen suggested that a possible reason for this result is that smartphones, no matter how helpful or easy-to-use, lack certain critical characteristics present during the in-person treatment.