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Your Weight Loss App May Just Be A Placebo, If it Even Worked

Your Weight Loss App May Just Be A Placebo, If it Even Worked
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You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Turns out, casually downloading that app form your playstore at 1Am while you’re neatly tucked under the sheets just about to sleep with fried chicken strains on your shirt and greasy fingers isn’t really going to help you reduce weight. According to a recent study, nearly 3000 if not more fitness apps have absolutely no scientific backing of any kind to them, are just about as placebo as prayers. And it shouldn’t come as surprise either, because if you usually hear about an app or technology that sounds implausible and too good to be true, it most likely isn’t.

The survey was conducted by Dr. Charoula Nikolaou, Catholic University of Louvain and Mike Lean, University of Glasgow and current mobile apps were assessed in the market for weight management. The two most popular mobile stores, Apple iTunes App-store and Google Play Store, in US, UK, and Singapore were searched using key words: ''weight', 'weight-management', 'calorie' to identify relevant apps, and recorded price, download-frequency, customer-rating and details about the app developer. A total of 3,013 available relevant apps were identified which had been downloaded a whooping number of 666,169,136 times. Google Play Store had 2,196 apps (1,808 free) and Apple iTunes had 817 (352 free), available. Google Play Store had almost twice the proportion of apps available free of charge compared to Apple iTunes store.

Most fitness apps involve the user to enter their body weight, track calories burned based on this number and using the smartphone’s gyroscope and movement tracking. The most popular apps in the market were predictably, fitbit, my fitness pal and Noom weight loss coach. Unfortunately, most weight loss and other fitness apps require the user to have an additional external device that tracks and records the user’s statistics. Apple has played a huge emphasis on its healthcare apps and integration to the default iOS, with tracking the users steps and walk daily, including elevation, a feature which cannot be turned off in the newer devices.

It’s important to understand which apps will work and which won’t. If your device is accompanied by a fitness tracker, then depending on the efficiency of the tracker and exactly what you’re looking for. Eliminate the possibility of outrageously stupid apps, such as those that release a “soothing sound to help you burn calories at night when you sleep”. If you’re looking for apps to help you dream or sleep, without focusing on their alleged calorie burning benefits, then click here. Apps which may actually help you on your journey towards weight loss or living a healthier life could be apps that:

  • Reminders to rehydrate yourself
  • Reminders for walks
  • Calorie count requirements for your body
  • BMI calculator
  • Reward users for working out by using smartphone's trackers to monitor
  • Monitor steps taken during the day
  • Competitive or social running apps that encourage you to run more etc

Similarly, apps that ask you to feed what you just ate into them to get a prediction about their calories might also not be as accurate as they claim because it’s going to be extremely difficult to predict calories from just the name of the dish, as the style of cooking, variable ingredients used, brands, serving size will never be 100% accurate to as the app records them. The authors of the study said that previously tried and tested, peer reviewed and professionally designed weight loss programs when implemented into apps could be the only way weight loss apps might actually work. Adding to the note they said, “As far as we can see, none of the apps identified has been developed by a certified health organization or university. There are no published data on effectiveness of apps for weight management or weight-gain prevention, to date."

It goes without saying if you’re seriously overweight or underweight you should consultant a doctor and a nutritionist first before seeking out an app. No app will be able to match the efficiency of a healthy diet, exercise, water and adequate sleep. What has your experiences with weight loss apps been like? Let us know in the comments on our official Facebook page Entrepreneur India

Edition: December 2016

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