More than 54 percent of U.S. adults are classified as overweight or obese, and the number of adults who use the Internet has soared to 56 percent (from 9 percent) in the last four years. These statistics suggest that a solution to reducing obesity (and the health risks associated with obesity) may be found online. A new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Mar, 2013), found that overweight individuals who received Internet weight counseling and support reported a significant amount of weight loss that surpassed their “unsupported” peers.
The six-month study compared 32 participants in an Internet education program, to 33 participants in an Internet behavior therapy group. Both groups received one face-to-face group weight-loss session and were encouraged to monitor their results online, but only members of the behavior therapy group were required to submit their results through an electronic diary. The behavior therapy group had access to an online bulletin board and website that had weight-loss links, and received feedback and a sequence of behavioral lessons from a therapist on weight-loss topics such as exercise, nutrition and self-regulatory strategies. The feedback consisted of both recommendations and reinforcement, and strategies for improvement. Therapists also answered questions and provided general support and encouragement. Participants who failed to log their progress were sent personal emails regarding their progress, and were encouraged to submit their progress reports.
Participants in the behavior therapy group lost more weight and reduced waist circumference by a greater amount than the education-only group. The behavior therapy group lost a mean of 4.0 kg by three months, and 4.1 by six months, while the education group lost only 1.7 kg at three months, and 1.6 at six months. Forty-five percent of the behavior therapy group achieved the 5-percent weight-loss goal, compared to only 22 percent of the education group.
Conclusions from this study support the use of the Internet as a viable mode of public health intervention. While group behavioral programs offer the most effective programs for treating obesity, most adults would rather work on their weight-loss goals independently with the support of a counselor rather than in a structured, face-to-face setting. The Internet may also offer overweight and obese individuals in your club the flexibility they need to achieve their weight-loss goals, as long as you also offer personal support.