Online Weight Loss Isn’t the Real Thing

Digital nutrition programs are not as effective as they claim

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Weight management can be tough when you don’t know where to start. Going out and seeking help can also be hard. Online nutrition programs might seem like a good fit, but do they work?

Many turn to Internet-based nutrition programs as work and home life become more demanding. It just seems easier to have an online nutrition program at your fingertips whenever you want. The problem researchers are finding is that they may not be as effective as they claim.

"Online advice can be good, but the key is to stay active."

Willemieke Kroeze, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, Johannes Brug, Ph.D., professor at the same university, and other colleagues from Masstricht University and Erasmus University in the Netherlands, studied the effectiveness of online nutrition programs by measuring blood lipids. Blood lipids include total cholesterol levels, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels and triglyceride (fat) levels.

The program is a tailored intervention that is supposed to help reduce fat intake. However, the research team found no difference in blood values after 442 healthy Dutch adults completed the online nutrition program.

The program may seem like it works because many of the online programs ask for self reporting. Self reporting can cause errors for researchers because individuals may not indicate the correct portion size, they may be underreporting, or providing answers that are socially desirable.

Web-based nutrition programs are convenient and tailored to individuals, but intensity and duration of these programs should improve to make these more effective, Kroeze says. These online programs should also encourage social interaction, he adds.

The research is published in the September/October 2011 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 8, 2011
Last Updated:
September 15, 2011