Their study is the first to evaluate a smartphone app as the
sole method for monitoring weight loss, with researchers creating My Meal Mate
to trial against similar products for monitoring food intake, an online food
diary and the traditional paper version.
How it works
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 (10lbs), compared with the 2.9kg (6.5lbs) and 1.3kg
(3lbs) lost by the paper-based and online diary users, respectively.
The results of the pilot trial have been published in the Journal of Internet Medical Research.
The Department of Health has calculated the direct costs of
obesity on the NHS to be £5.1bn a year and an estimated 40 000 people die
annually from conditions attributable to being overweight or obese.
Technology and human
"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," added Professor Cade.
Unlike other currently available smartphone apps that are
aimed at helping people monitor food intake and lose weight, My Meal Mate is
the first free app to contain a large UK-based food database. This allows users
to map their eating habits easily to the products they consume. It is also the
first such app to be hosted for download on the NHS Choices website.
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 paper, who conducted the study as part of her
PhD at the University of Leeds.
It is now available to download for Android smartphones from
the NHS Choices website and from the Google Play Store.