Use of a Smartphone App for Weight Loss Versus a Paper-Based Dietary Diary in Overweight Adults: Randomized Controlled Trial

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2020 Jul 31;8(7):e14013. doi: 10.2196/14013.


Background: Mobile health (mHealth) tools may be useful platforms for dietary monitoring and assessment.

Objective: This study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of a mobile dietary self-monitoring app for weight loss versus a paper-based diary among adults with a BMI of 23 kg/m2 or above.

Methods: A total of 33 men and 17 women aged 18-39 years participated in a 6-week randomized controlled trial. We randomly assigned participants to one of two groups: (1) a smartphone app group (n=25) or (2) a paper-based diary group (n=25). The smartphone app group recorded foods and dietary supplements that they consumed and received immediate dietary feedback using Well-D, a dietary self-monitoring app developed by our team. The paper-based diary group was instructed to record foods or supplements that they consumed using a self-recorded diary. The primary outcomes were weight, BMI, waist circumference, body fat mass, and skeletal muscle mass. We also examined changes in nutrient intake, including energy, carbohydrate, protein, fat, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, using 3-day 24-hour recalls. Differences in changes between the two groups were analyzed using independent t tests or Wilcoxon Mann-Whitney tests. All of the data were analyzed using intent-to-treat analysis.

Results: The mean number of days recorded was 18.5 (SD 14.1) for the app group and 15.5 (SD 10.1) for the paper-based diary group. The differences in changes in weight, BMI, and waist circumference were not significantly different between the app group and paper-based diary group (P=.33, .34, and .70, respectively). Similarly, changes in body fat mass or skeletal muscle mass did not differ between the two groups (P=.71 and .054, respectively). Although energy intake was reduced in both groups, there was no significant difference in changes in energy intake between the two groups (P=.98).

Conclusions: There were no differences in changes in anthropometric measures and nutrient intake between the app group and the paper-based diary group. Both mobile dietary self-monitoring app and paper-based diary may be useful for improving anthropometric measures.

Trial registration: Clinical Research Information Service KCT0003170;

Keywords: dietary self-monitoring; mobile phone; randomized controlled trial; smartphone app; weight loss.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Overweight / diet therapy*
  • Smartphone
  • Weight Loss*
  • Young Adult