London: Researchers have developed a new smartphone app that could be key to losing weight, enabling users to regularly monitor their food intake and exercise.
The study is the first to evaluate a smartphone app as the sole method for monitoring weight loss, with researchers at the University of Leeds creating My Meal Mate to trial against similar products for monitoring food intake, an on-line food diary and the traditional paper version.
The My Meal Mate app allows users to monitor their food intake and exercise, set a weight loss target and sends a weekly update on progress via text message.
The smartphone app was used on average every other day in the trial, whilst the average use of the website and paper diary was about once a week.
As a result, over the 6 months of the study those using the app lost on average 4.6kg, compared with the 2.9kg and 1.3kg lost by the paper-based and on-line diary users, respectively.
"Smartphone technology could be harnessed to promote health, generally people don`t know how many calories they are eating daily. My Meal Mate really helped people monitor their food intake and resulted in an important amount of weight loss," said Professor Janet Cade, from the School of Food Science and Nutrition, who lead the project.
"The labelling on food packaging can help people to identify sensible food choices but it doesn`t enable them to understand the cumulative effects of the foods they eat. Keeping a food diary allows us to see where we might be eating too much and the app has proved to be the most effective tracking method by far," Cade said in a statement.
The pilot trial consisted of 128 overweight volunteers, split into three groups with each group using a different monitoring method. Their use of each method and their weight and other body measurements were monitored over six months.
"Whilst we wouldn`t expect people to use My Meal Mate daily for the rest of their lives, it gives them the skills and education to monitor their diet themselves - to have a better understanding of portion sizes, nutritional content and the effect of exercise," said Michelle Carter, the lead author on the study.
The results of the pilot trial have been published in the Journal of Internet Medical Research.