Knee-Deep in Tech, But Thinner As A Result

Knee-Deep in Tech, But Thinner As A Result

Check out any day’s headlines and the truth is in black print: America’s obesity epidemic is at an all-time high. But fad diets are out. The newest craze in weight loss is not “eat this, not that” but “show me what you’re eating”.

That’s correct: Social media (both for shaming and praising) has been proven to help people lessen the pounds around their mid-sections, receive immediate acclaim for putting in treadmill time, and excessive emoticons for “smart, clean eating”. Forget privacy concerns. Americans from all walks of life are finding ways to use social media to help them shed the extra weight and eat more healthfully.

In one recently published study conducted in London, researchers examined data from a dozen previously published studies that looked closely at social networking services for weight loss with more than 1,800 participants. What they found was that those who used social media to communicate with others regarding their dieting progress decreased their body mass index (BMI) by .64 percent, which seems modest, but authors describe it as “significant”. Researchers are excited by the information since using social media to lose weight is something that is highly affordable and widely available.

“The studies we looked at were the first to investigate social media approaches to obesity. There needs to be more research into this area to see what approaches work best for which patients in light of the dramatic global adoption of social media tools and content,” explained Hutan Ashrafian, MD and lead author of the study at the Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College, London.

Inexpensive and Wildly Popular 

“One advantage of using social media over other methods is that it offers the potential to be much more cost effective and practical for day-to-day use when compared to traditional approaches. The feeling of being part of a community allows patients to draw on the support of their peers as well as clinicians. They can get advice from their doctor without the inconvenience or cost of having to travel, and clinicians can provide advice to many patients simultaneously.”

The only concern thus far has been privacy, but everyone currently using social media has their own parameters and opinions regarding whether or not to share personal or medical information. Researchers in London suggest that privacy issues notwithstanding, every country should encourage the use of social media for the purposes of enhancing better health.

Counting Calories Counts

Other research done stateside at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, suggests that frequent text messaging may help people better understand food labels to make healthier choices, especially when it comes to counting calories, a strategy that was before seen as more of a chore than a way to utilize health information.

In that 2014 study published in Health Promotion Practice, 246 participants were assigned to either receive a weekly text, a single e-mail reminder, or no contract regarding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) guidelines for the amount of calories needed each day for the average adult: basically 2,000 calories. After four weeks, all participants were surveyed about their knowledge regarding the 2,000-calorie limit.

“While daily energy needs vary, the 2,000-calorie value provides a general frame of reference that can make menu and product nutrition labels more meaningful,” said lead study author Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD and director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “When people know their calorie ‘budget’ for the day, they have context for making healthier meal and snack choices.”

Making those choices might actually become easier still, considering that the FDA is making it mandatory in most cases for restaurants (those with 20 or more outlets) to clearly post food labels for meals in menus and on placards. Information such as that might have people ordering salads instead of double- and tripled-sized hamburgers with special high-calorie sauces and a side of super-sized fries.

Opportunities Abound

“There are many simple ways to convey calorie information to consumers, including point-of-sale communication, text messages, e-mails and even smart phone apps,” explained Cheskin. “Ideally, these [software programs] could work together, with calories posted on menus, restaurant signage and food labels along with personal reminders delivered via the latest technology.”

Yet another health tech advancement is already here: The latest Apple iPhones, which work in tandem with Apple’s new iWatch device that debuted in September, contain both a heart monitor as well as a system for getting real-time information about your liver and kidneys. It’s a parting gift from the late Steve Jobs, who apparently was fixated on improving health monitoring devices while battling pancreatic cancer prior to his death in 2011.