Using Internet technology to deliver a behavioral weight loss program

JAMA. 2001 Mar 7;285(9):1172-7. doi: 10.1001/jama.285.9.1172.


Context: Rapid increases in access to the Internet have made it a viable mode for public health intervention. No controlled studies have evaluated this resource for weight loss.

Objective: To determine whether a structured Internet behavioral weight loss program produces greater initial weight loss and changes in waist circumference than a weight loss education Web site.

Design: Randomized, controlled trial conducted from April to December 1999.

Setting and participants: Ninety-one healthy, overweight adult hospital employees aged 18 to 60 years with a body mass index of 25 to 36 kg/m(2). Analyses were performed for the 65 who had complete follow-up data.

Interventions: Participants were randomly assigned to a 6-month weight loss program of either Internet education (education; n = 32 with complete data) or Internet behavior therapy (behavior therapy; n = 33 with complete data). All participants were given 1 face-to-face group weight loss session and access to a Web site with organized links to Internet weight loss resources. Participants in the behavior therapy group received additional behavioral procedures, including a sequence of 24 weekly behavioral lessons via e-mail, weekly online submission of self-monitoring diaries with individualized therapist feedback via e-mail, and an online bulletin board.

Main outcome measures: Body weight and waist circumference, measured at 0, 3, and 6 months, compared the 2 intervention groups.

Results: Repeated-measures analyses showed that the behavior therapy group lost more weight than the education group (P =.005). The behavior therapy group lost a mean (SD) of 4.0 (2.8) kg by 3 months and 4.1 (4.5) kg by 6 months. Weight loss in the education group was 1.7 (2.7) kg at 3 months and 1.6 (3.3) kg by 6 months. More participants in the behavior therapy than education group achieved the 5% weight loss goal (45% vs 22%; P =.05) by 6 months. Changes in waist circumference were also greater in the behavior therapy group than in the education group at both 3 months (P =.001) and 6 months (P =.005).

Conclusions: Participants who were given a structured behavioral treatment program with weekly contact and individualized feedback had better weight loss compared with those given links to educational Web sites. Thus, the Internet and e-mail appear to be viable methods for delivery of structured behavioral weight loss programs.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Diet, Reducing
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Weight Loss*