For many people trying to shed a few kilograms, it's hard enough to lose the weight, but many experts say it's even harder to keep the weight off. Now, a new study indicates that the Internet can help.
People in the study had already lost an average of nine kilos. The challenge they faced was maintaining their new weight.
To test various strategies, researchers randomly assigned participants to one of three groups. Some were told to meet with a counselor once a month. Another group was asked to try a weight management website. People in the third group were on their own.
Those who got personal counseling did the best, regaining about four kilos. The website users regained about five point two kilos - overall, not much better than the control group, which had no structured weight maintenance program.
But study author Kristine Funk, a dietitian and researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research says those averages mask significant differences within the group of website users. She says the online tool was very effective for those who used it at least once a month.
"The participants in the consistent use category regained 56 percent of the amount they had lost, whereas the participants who used the website minimally regained nearly all their weight," she said. "So the tool here does help participants, if they use it."
Users visiting the website created for this study were asked to enter their weight, the food they'd eaten, and their physical activity. The website followed their progress, provided tips and encouragement, and offered bulletin boards where users could compare notes and motivate each Funk says it's not the same as one-on-one counseling, but she points out that the personal approach may not always be possible or convenient.
"Partly because, while personal counseling and a personal coach might be the Cadillac version of weight loss maintenance, it may not be practical for all people after they've lost weight, whereas if an Internet website can prove to be helpful, something like an Internet website is available.
She also says that, when the upfront costs of developing a website like that are spread over a lot of participants, the web approach would likely be cheaper than individual counseling.
Kristine Funk's study on Web-based weight loss management is published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.