July 27, 2010 -- People who have lost weight and who are diligent in using an interactive web site on a regular basis may find it easier to maintain their weight loss, a new study suggests.
Researchers say a study involving 348 people found that those who logged in to an interactive weight loss maintenance web site to record their weight at least once a month for 2.5 years maintained more weight loss than participants who logged in less frequently. Participants could also enter information on their diet, exercise, and other weight loss activities.
The web-based weight maintenance intervention program was part of a study called the Weight Loss Maintenance Trial that lasted three years and included more than 1,600 people across the country.
For the first six months, participants tried to lose weight by attending weekly group meetings at which they were weighed, encouraged to keep food diaries, and given extensive information about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise. To be eligible for the web-based maintenance program, participants had to lose at least 9 pounds. Participants randomly assigned to the Internet group had lost an average of 19 pounds.
The Internet group included 348 people, who were encouraged to log in at least weekly. If they didn’t, they received email reminders and follow-up automated phone messages. The average age was 56, 37% were male, 38% African-American, and 62% had a college or post-graduate degree. And each had to demonstrate Internet and email access by logging in to a web site and responding to email.
After logging into the web site, participants were prompted to record their weight, their minutes of exercise, and the number of days they kept food diaries.
The web site included an interactive bulletin board on which participants could chat with others involved in the study and pose questions to exercise and nutrition experts.
The study found that people who logged in and recorded their weight at least once a month for 26 of the 28 months managed to maintain the greatest weight loss, keeping off an average of 9 of the 19 pounds they had lost during the weight loss phase of the program.
Those who logged in less consistently, at least once in 14 to 25 months, kept off an average of 5 pounds.
People who logged into the web site less than that kept off an average of only 3 pounds.
At the end of the 28 month study, 65% of the 348 participants were still logging in to the web site.
“Consistency and accountability are essential in any weight maintenance program,” Kristine L. Funk, MS, RD, study author and a researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore., says in a news release. “The unique part of this intervention was that it was available on the Internet, whenever and wherever people wanted to use it.”
The factors most linked to less weight regain were number of log-ins and minutes on the web site, number of weight entries, number of exercise entries, and number of sessions using other web site features.
Keeping the Weight Off
Co-author Victor J. Stevens, PhD, also of Kaiser Permanente, says the study shows that “if people use quality weight management web sites consistently, and they stick with their program, they are more likely to keep their weight off.”
He adds that “keeping weight off is even more difficult than losing it in the first place, so the fact that so many people (in the study) were able to maintain a good portion of their weight loss is very encouraging to us.”
The researchers say they were encouraged by the continued high level of web site participation because such commitment is rare, even in short-term weight maintenance studies that use the Internet.
They advise consumers to look for weight management programs that encourage accountability by asking users to consistently record weight, exercise, and calories consumed. Also, they say web sites should include tailored or personalized information or have interactive features that allow users to communicate with others and with experts.
The study, published online in advance of the August issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., the University of Vermont in Burlington, Towson University near Baltimore, and Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., also took part in the study.