Smartphone App, Social Network Helps Kids Fight Fat

PHOTO: A new smartphone app aims to help kids lose weight without the public ridicule.
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An anonymous social networking website, with an accompanying smartphone app, seemed to help obese youths lose weight without fear of public ridicule, a researcher said.

Those who used the site, weigh2rock.com, self-reported a mean weight loss of 7.4 pounds, and those who used the partner app reported losing a mean 10 pounds over 4 months, Dr. Robert Pretlow of the Research Institute at eHealth International in Seattle reported at the European Congress on Obesity in Lyon, France.

"While weight loss from social networking is not as much as face-to-face weight-loss programs, social networking is much cheaper and much more widely available," Pretlow said in a statement.

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He said public social networking may promote obesity, especially if it lowers obese teens' self-esteem. Fears of social rejection and isolation may lead to sadness and depression, which can then inspire "comfort eating," especially of highly pleasurable food, Pretlow explained.

But social networking site where participants remain anonymous may help patients who are struggling to lose weight avoid feelings of shame and embarrassment. The idea is modeled after other programs in addiction medicine that emphasize anonymity.

"Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Drug Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Food Addicts Anonymous demonstrate that support groups are indispensable in the addiction treatment approach," Pretlow said. "The crucial point is that people remain anonymous."

He added that the group support component helps the obese patients tolerate withdrawal from problem foods and motivates them to continue their weight loss.

So Pretlow reported data on the anonymous obesity website he developed. Weigh2rock.com offers online forums, chat rooms, success stories, a weight-loss "buddy" program, and other tips for keeping pounds off.

Since the site started 11 years ago, Pretlow said, there have been a total of 17,628 users, with a mean age of 14.2, and a mean body mass index of 32.7.

During that time, users reported a mean weight loss of 7.4 pounds, Pretlow said.

He also conducted an early study of a companion smartphone app that he developed, W8Loss2Go, among 12 obese youths, ages 9 to 22.

These patients reported a mean weight loss of 10 pounds during that time, Pretlow said, adding that exit questionnaires suggest the app was especially useful in helping patients stay away from problem foods and large portion sizes. A larger trial of the app, involving 30 youths, will begin next month.

"Many young people using our website have posted that they have done so for five to 10 years, lost or maintained weight, left, and then returned when they relapsed," Pretlow said in the statement. "Re-addiction is prevented by socially learning to cope with life without turning to food."

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