Fitness technology alone can’t treat obesity

Do our weight-loss efforts need a human touch? Or can technology alone suffice to motivate us?

Researchers from the Northwestern University looked at people who initially only received technology without coach support. They found that these people were less likely to have a meaningful weight loss, considered to be at least 5% of body weight, compared to those who had a human coach at the start. The study also showed that the weight loss disadvantage for those who without coach support persisted for six months.

Previous research has shown that mobile health tools for tracking diet, exercise and weight increase engagement in behavioural obesity treatment. But, before this study, it wasn’t clear whether they produced clinically acceptable weight loss in the absence of support from a human coach.

The study, published in ‘JAMA’, says that at this stage, the average person still needs a human coach to achieve clinically meaningful weight loss goals because the tech isn’t sufficiently developed yet. Eventually, more advanced technology may be able to supplant human coaches. We may not be so far away from having an AI chat bot that can sub for a human, but we are not quite there yet. However, it’s within reach because the tech is developing really fast.