In addition, about one-third of those in the smartphone program lost at least 5 percent of their body weight when they were only three months into the program, while those in the other group lost nothing during that time period, the researchers found.
These benefits lasted for the entire year, the study authors added.
"Neither the app alone nor the group weight-loss classes was effective for the average patient. The combination of technology and health education was what worked best," Spring explained.
"This reminds us that few, if any, commercially available weight-loss apps have been tested in rigorous clinical trials, and that technology may work best when it's integrated into a care system that also provides accountability and support," Spring added.
Dr. Goutham Rao, the vice chair of family medicine at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., and co-author of an accompanying journal editorial, agreed that the smartphone approach seems to work.
"Existing obesity treatments don't meet certain criteria that are necessary," he said. "Treatments have to be accessible and inexpensive, and have to be able to engage and re-engage patients over time. There are some promising developments on the horizon."
Weight-loss drugs aren't effective enough and aren't available to large numbers of people, Rao said, and weight-loss surgery is also out of financial reach for most people.
"This technology is something people use on a regular basis; they don't have to learn how to use it," he noted.
"The studies we have so far show really promising results," Rao said. "You can't be a passive participant in weight loss. Smartphone programs personalize the program," he pointed out.
"Within three to four years we will have inexpensive, accessible weight-loss technology that everybody can benefit from," Rao added.
Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale Un
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