Going Online May Help Overcome Hurdles to Weight Loss

Spending time on specific websites can help people lose weight by keeping them accountable and connected, Time.com reported.

Investigators at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research (KPCHR) designed a website to track the weight of about 350 of the 1,600 overweight or obese participants of a longer-term study.

For this Web-based phase, the study’s authors asked users to log on to a weight-loss support website and record their weight and the amount of exercise they had done once a week over a two-and-a-half-year period. Those who failed to do so received an e-mail, then an automated phone call, encouraging them to enter their information. They modeled it after Facebook to create a setting in which users could interact with each other.

The 350 participants qualified for this phase of the trial by losing 19 pounds in the first six months of the larger study. The Web-based phase looked at how much weight they were able to keep off.

The combination of keeping participants accountable and providing them with a community is what the study authors believe helped those who logged on at least once a month keep off an average of nine of the original 19 pounds they lost - those who logged on the least kept off an average of three pounds.

Although the site was designed to replicate the personalized, interactive experience of a weight-loss program, the online format gave those classified as obese an added incentive.

"The people on the Internet didn't know they were supposed to reject me," said Nancy Makin, who lost more than 500 pounds, a quarter ton, by putting down the fork and opening up her laptop. "And that fed me and I was allowed to let my spirit come out. I replaced a very poor tool for judging myself with a very fulfilling activity."

Makin weighed 703 pounds in 2003 and feared being judged by others for her weight. But when her sister bought her a computer that year and started making friends online, she no longer had to just rely on food to make her feel good.

"The key is to find contentment and value in yourself by reaching out and doing something not for you, and the weight will come off as a side effect," said Makin, who believes that community plays a larger role in weight loss for the morbidly obese, while accountability better helps those who are over weight.

Kristine Funk, the study's lead author, suggests that an online weight-loss support group should have both a weight tracking feature and a forum for users to interact with each other and experts.

The study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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