Mobile apps help tackle obesity: academic

MOBILE phone apps that allow people to share their experiences and ask for help from peers will be most effective in Queensland's quest to tackle obesity, a university professor says.

Professor Judy Drennan, from Queensland University of Technology, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that connectivity, transparency and the fact that most people had a mobile phone with them at all times could lead to success.

But colleague Professor Rebekah Russell-Bennett told MPs in the Health and Ambulance Services Committee that any telehealth initiatives to address obesity must have sufficient funding for evaluation.

"Many of these technologies are very new - there's not a lot known about them and there's a temptation to rush in and do something that's a fad and a bit of a buzz because you can," she said.

"If the Queensland Government is going to be innovative you also need to make sure that what you try comes with knowledge at the end about why it worked or why it didn't."

Ms Drennan, who specialises in the social wellbeing of young people, said research found mobile phone apps were important for changing behaviour.

"We know that in weight loss, it's highly helpful and there's been research to show that it's been able to have a decrease of 1.6kg over a few months," she said.

"It also increased physical activity by 35 minutes a day, increased vegetable intake, reduced drinking sugary products by about 455mls a day.

"It's found weight loss is much more effective through smartphones than, say, by websites or by using paper.

"The reason is that with paper diaries you can't share it.

"With mobile phones and with using apps that are shareable we know there's a modelling of behaviour because we know what other people are doing.

"And it's a normalising of behaviour, so if we do fall off the wagon we know that other people do too and we can get assistance with that. It's peer to peer."

The committee, which is looking at ways to increase physical activity, improve nutrition and reduce weight through technology, must report back to parliament by June 12.


Topics:  apps health obesity technology telehealth

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