Digital health tracking tools help individuals lose weight, study finds | News Center

Weight loss advice is exasperating. Eat breakfast. Don’t eat breakfast. No fats. Lots of fats. Run long distances. Exercise hard in spurts.

A new study led by a Stanford Medicine researcher makes at least one thing clear: No matter which weight loss tactic you choose, you’re typically more successful if you track your progress with digital health tools.

According to the study, the closer people track their weight-loss efforts with things like smart watches, digital scales and diet-monitoring websites, the more weight they tend to lose.

“We’ve seen this rise of digital health tools in the last decade, and they provide a great way for people to access interventions to better their health,” said Michele Patel, PhD, postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. “We’re also starting to see that more weight loss programs are trending toward digital tools, too. But exactly what is being used, how it’s being used and the impact it has on the user has never been systematically studied on a large scale.”

The analysis also revealed that individuals who tracked their diet or physical activity digitally were more engaged, meaning they were more consistently active in using their digital tools, than those who tracked their behavior through more traditional means, such as handwritten records of exercise routines or calorie intake. In the end, it all comes back to goal-setting and consistency, said Patel, and digital tools can help facilitate both.

A paper detailing the analysis was published online Feb. 24 in Obesity.

Digital is convenient

Patel and her team compared nearly 40 different studies on weight-loss monitoring that were conducted between 2009 and 2019. In each study, participants tracked their behaviors, such as calorie and nutrient consumption, the number of daily bites they took and their physical activity, with digital tools. Three-quarters of the time, those who used digital tools more frequently to monitor themselves lost more weight than those who self-monitored less frequently with digital tools, Patel and her colleagues found. 

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