Background: Evidence on the long-term effects of weight management smartphone apps on various weight-related outcomes remains scarce.
Objective: In this review, we aimed to examine the effects of smartphone apps on anthropometric, metabolic, and dietary outcomes at various time points.
Methods: Articles published from database inception to March 10, 2022 were searched, from 7 databases (Embase, CINAHL, PubMed, PsycINFO, Cochrane Library, Scopus, and Web of Science) using forward and backward citation tracking. All randomized controlled trials that reported weight change as an outcome in adults with overweight and obesity were included. We performed separate meta-analyses using random effects models for weight, waist circumference, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, blood glucose level, blood pressure, and total energy intake per day. Methodological quality was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool.
Results: Based on our meta-analyses, weight loss was sustained between 3 and 12 months, with a peak of 2.18 kg at 3 months that tapered down to 1.63 kg at 12 months. We did not find significant benefits of weight loss on the secondary outcomes examined, except for a slight improvement in systolic blood pressure at 3 months. Most of the included studies covered app-based interventions that comprised of components beyond food logging, such as real-time diet and exercise self-monitoring, personalized and remote progress tracking, timely feedback provision, smart devices that synchronized activity and weight data to smartphones, and libraries of diet and physical activity ideas.
Conclusions: Smartphone weight loss apps are effective in initiating and sustaining weight loss between 3 and 12 months, but their effects are minimal in their current states. Future studies could consider the various aspects of the socioecological model. Conversational and dialectic components that simulate health coaches could be useful to enhance user engagement and outcome effectiveness.
Trial registration: International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (PROSPERO) CRD42022329197; https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=329197.
Keywords: app; diet; eHealth; eating; mHealth; mobile app; mobile health; mobile phone; obesity; smartphone app; weight loss; weight management.
©Han Shi Jocelyn Chew, Wee Ling Koh, Janelle Shaina Hui Yi Ng, Ker Kan Tan. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (https://www.jmir.org), 21.09.2022.