"As more consumers seek information on the web, it's essential that we identify and improve on the components of Internet weight loss programs that make these programs successful," said Dr. Deborah Tate, lead study author and assistant professor in the University of North Carolina School of Public Health.

For the study, 192 overweight or obese adults were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: a group receiving no e-mail counselling, a group receiving computer-automated counselling, or a group receiving counselling via e-mail from a human. Participants in all groups were encouraged to follow an Internet weight loss program; the automated and human groups also had access to an electronic diary and message board. The human group also received weekly e-mail feedback from a counsellor, while the automated group received computer-automated feedback messages.

All three groups were evaluated at the start of the program, three months and six months. The primary measure of success was change in body weight, though physical activity, dietary intake and login frequency to the program's Web site was also monitored. "We found that both the human and computer-automated counselling groups lost significantly more weight than the group without counselling after three months," says Tate.

While average weight loss was similar for both groups receiving e-counselling at three months, the researchers found that at six months, the human group experienced the greatest overall weight loss, averaging a drop of 13 pounds to 15 pounds. The computer automated group averaged an overall weight loss of eight pounds to ten pounds, and 34 percent achieved a weight loss of more than five percent of their initial weight - considered a clinically meaningful weight loss. In addition, participants in the computer automated group achieved weight loss equivalent to human e-counselling for the first three months.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill