When it comes to losing weight, using a mobile app to track progress and getting feedback from a doctor, dietitian or exercise specialist could heavily influence success.
A new study by Summa Health System researchers found overweight breast and endometrial cancer survivors lost weight and decreased their waist circumference using the Lose It! smartphone application, paired with support from health-care providers.
At the end of the one-month study, body-mass index (BMI) and waist circumference among participants decreased by 3 to 4 percent.
The results from the small-scale study with 50 participants provide a promising approach to help patients achieve weight loss in a low-cost, convenient way, said Dr. Shannon Armbruster, a third-year resident in obstetrics and gynecology at Summa who helped lead the research.
“It shows us that we have a very feasible and easy way to reach patients and this intervention is indeed successful at reducing their body weight and waist circumference,” she said. “We know that from colon and breast cancer research a decrease of weight of 5 percent is associated with increased health and increased survivorship and decreased cancer recurrence.”
The findings were released Sunday at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s 45th Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer in Tampa, Fla.
Participants in the study were given access to the Lose It! app to log their daily food intake and exercise.
The app, which can be used on smartphones and tablets or accessed via computer for free, lets people track calories and activities and chart their progress toward a target weight loss.
Entries into a special version of Lose It! provided to Summa by the Boston-based company were monitored by an exercise physiologist, gynecological oncologist, medical resident and dietitian. The specialists were then able to call or send comments, reminders or messages of encouragement to patients based on their food choices and reported activity level.
“It’s very well documented that whether you have an app or not, if you document your diet, you tend to be more aware of what you’re eating,” said Michele McCarroll, Summa’s director of women’s health research and lead author of the study. “They always had it in the back of their mind that they knew we were watching them.”
The study was open to women diagnosed with early-stage endometrial or breast cancer within the past two years who had a body-mass index of at least 25, which is classified as overweight.
Participants had to be at least six months post-surgery and couldn’t have participated in a structured weight loss program within the past six months.
Breast and endometrial cancer survivors were targeted because both cancers are linked to obesity, McCarroll said.
Previous research at Summa has shown women who beat endometrial cancer still are at risk of premature death from other health problems, particularly those tied to poor diet and lack of exercise.
“We know that women who are diagnosed with endometrial cancer whose BMIs are greater than 40 have a 6.25-fold increase in mortality due to their obesity,” Armbruster said.
Deborah Nees, a 63-year-old endometrial cancer survivor from Akron, lost about 12 pounds during the month she participated in the study earlier this year.
“I’d been trying for a year to lose some weight on my own, watching calories, nothing formal,” she said. “It just wasn’t happening.”
The program was “super helpful,” she said. “I still want the Twinkies and the cake and the pies. I look at them and think, ‘Yes, that would be nice, but, oh no, I have to write it down.’ ”
She has continued to use the Lose It! app on her iPad and hopes to shed another 54 pounds during the next year.
About two-thirds of the 50 participants stuck with the program for the entire month.
Overall, the mean BMI of participants dropped from 34.9 to 33.9 during the one-month study. Weight decreased from 203.5 pounds to 198.6 pounds.
The next step will be to conduct a larger-scale study with more participants that tracks progress over a longer period of time, McCarroll said.
“They can certainly get the Lose It! app on their own and do it on their own,” she said. “But the health-care provider interface, I think, really provides that added benefit.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/CherylPowellABJ.