Putting the 'e' In Diet
By Sally Squires
Tuesday, July 13, 2004; Page HE01
Can the Internet help with weight loss?
Yes, according to a new University of Pennsylvania study, but the results may disappoint those looking for a huge drop in pounds, unless they are willing to put forth extra effort.
Intrigued by the popularity of eDiets.com -- an online weight loss program that says it has 233,000 paid users -- the Penn researchers randomly assigned 47 overweight but otherwise healthy women in their early forties to a year's worth of either eDiets.com or a do-it-yourself, book-based weight loss program.
"We thought [eDiets.com] would be great in helping people lose weight," said Leslie Womble, lead author of the study, which appears in the June issue of Obesity Research. "It's so accessible. You can log on at any time, and for some people a barrier to weight loss is time and having to come to group meetings."
Before the study began, all the women met briefly with Womble, a clinical psychologist, who urged them to follow their program as closely as possible. The eDiets participants received a membership (valued at $3 per week) paid for by the researchers, whose funding came from the North American Association for the Study of Obesity and from a federal grant.
Those in the behavioral group each received a copy of "The LEARN Program for Weight Management," a $21.95 self-help manual published in 2000 by psychologist Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders.
During the study there were four check-ins, where participants shared eating and exercise records, but the rest of the time they were mostly left to their own devices. All participants were also weighed and measured regularly.
The eDiet participants lost 1.5 pounds at 16 weeks, compared with 6.6 pounds for the behavioral group, the study found. At one year, eDiet participants had lost an average of 1.8 pounds, compared with 7.3 pounds for the behavioral group.
"We were surprised," said Thomas Wadden, director of Penn's Weight and Eating Disorder Program and a co-author of the study. "The findings are intriguing because they're not as successful as findings" from a recent Brown University study of Internet dieters. That study, published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that adding a regular e-mail counseling message to an Internet weight loss program improved weight-loss results in a group of 92 overweight adults compared with a non-e-mail group using the same Web program.
Susan Burke, vice president of nutrition services for eDiets.com, said that "this was a pretty small study. . . . I can't talk to the numbers that [Wadden] came up with, but we know that the people on the [Brown] study did much better than that. They achieved much more weight loss than the people examined in this study did. I'm not really sure why. We do know that the people we are examining who are utilizing the [eDiets] program are doing very well."
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