Whether a culturally appropriate smartphone app could replace face-to-face support for weight loss is uncertain.
Weight loss in patients with type 2 diabetes improves metabolic outcomes such as insulin resistance and glycaemic control. This is particularly important in Asian populations where data indicate an increased prevalence of obesity. While traditionally lifestyle interventions have been delivered in face-to-face sessions, potential barriers such as the need for formal appointments, travel and associated costs, together with potential time constraints, can limit the value of these sessions.
In recent years, the development of smartphone technology has enabled the delivery of lifestyle interventions for patients with long-term conditions and which circumvent some of the problems encountered with face-to-face meetings. However, the effectiveness of smartphone-based apps can depend, to some extent, on the cultural appropriateness of the material provided. In an attempt to examine the value of a culturally and contextualised smartphone app, designed to deliver lifestyle interventions, a team from the Department of Dietetics, National University Hospital, Singapore, undertook a randomised, controlled trial to compare a smartphone-based intervention with usual care. Included participants were adults with type 2 diabetes with a body mass index (BMI) of 23 or greater and at the start of the study, all participants received a single advisory session from a dietician concerning weight and physical activity. Intervention participants were then required to use the app for at least 6 months (to track weight and activity levels) and to communicate (via the app) regularly with a dietician. The primary outcome was the change in body weight after six months, whereas secondary outcomes were changes in metabolic profiles (e.g., HbA1c, fasting blood glucose, blood pressure).
In total, 204 participants were enrolled and randomised to the intervention (99) or control. The mean age of intervention participants was 51.6 years (33.3% female) with an average weight of 84 kg and BMI of 30.3. After six months, participants in the intervention group had a significantly greater mean weight loss (3.6 kg vs 1.2kg, intervention vs control, p < 0.01). In addition, there was a greater change in mean HbA1c levels (-0.7% vs 0.03%, intervention vs control) and in the proportion of participants seeing a reduction in their use of diabetic medications (23.3% vs 5.4%, intervention vs control). There were also favourable changes in fasting glucose levels and diastolic blood pressure. Finally, nearly two-thirds (62%) of intervention participants used the smartphone app at least 75% of the days during the 6-month period.
Commenting on their findings, the authors noted how the intervention group’s weight loss was comparable to the results achieved from face-to-face sessions and, more importantly, this loss was sustained over a six-month period. The authors concluded that the smartphone app led to significant weight loss and metabolic parameters and that future work should focus on the lifestyle factors more likely to achieve successful outcomes.
Lim SL et al. Effect of a Smartphone App on Weight Change and Metabolic Outcomes in Asian Adults with Type 2 Diabetes. A Randomised Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open 2021