Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Winter 2017-18

Leveraging Technology for Behavioral Weight Loss Interventions

Valerie J. Silfee, PhD, Obesity and Eating Disorders SIG Outlook liaison

Technology usage in the United States has skyrocketed over the past few decades. According to data from the Pew Research Center, 88% of Americans currently use the Internet, 77% own a smartphone, and 68% use Facebook.1 These rates are also similar across gender, race/ethnicity, and age groups.1 Given this near ubiquity of technology, a considerable amount of research has been dedicated to understanding how we can deliver behavioral weight loss interventions via technology.

What are some of the current delivery modalities?

Researchers have used a variety of mobile health (mHealth) technologies to deliver behavioral weight loss interventions. Common mHealth modalities include short messaging service (SMS) or text messaging, smartphone applications or ‘apps’, and social media. Below are definitions of each technology type with relevant examples of weight loss interventions for each.

  • SMS Messaging: SMS messaging allows researchers to deliver short messages directly and instantaneously to individuals at any time, place or setting. These messages can be individually tailored and include daily or weekly tips, encouragement, and feedback for weight loss.2
  • Mobile Apps: Mobile apps are programs designed to run on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. Researchers can either use commercial available health apps (e.g. MyFitnessPal)3 or develop and test their own apps for intervention delivery.4
  • Social Media: Social media includes online sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that allow individuals to participate in social networking by connecting and interacting with one another. Social media has been used both as the primary intervention delivery mode5 as well as in conjunction with other modalities (e.g. in-person sessions, mobile apps, print materials).6

What resources are out there for researchers looking to leverage technology?

If you are looking for resources to help you increase the utilization of technology in your work, below are a few resources that may be helpful to you:

  • SBM BIT SIG: Collaborate within SBM and follow the Behavioral Informatics & Technology (BIT) Special Interest Group @SBMDigitalHealth.
  • Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR): JMIR is a leading journal for published articles on digital health with a high impact factor (5.175). Check out JMIR mHealth and uHealth for studies focused on mobile apps, computer technologies, and wearable technology.
  • mHealth Evidence Database: Developed in coordination with the World Health Organization, this is a databases that brings together published literature on mHealth to help you stay up-to-date on the current state of the evidence.


  1. Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet. January 12, 2017; http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/#. Accessed January 20, 2017.
  2. Patrick K, Raab F, Adams MA, et al. A text message–based intervention for weight loss: randomized controlled trial. Journal of medical Internet research. 2009;11(1).
  3. Laing BY, Mangione CM, Tseng C-H, et al. Effectiveness of a smartphone application for weight loss compared with usual Care in Overweight Primary Care PatientsA randomized, controlled TrialSmartphone application for weight loss in overweight primary care patients. Annals of internal medicine. 2014;161(10_Supplement):S5-S12.
  4. Carter MC, Burley VJ, Nykjaer C, Cade JE. Adherence to a smartphone application for weight loss compared to website and paper diary: pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of medical Internet research. 2013;15(4).
  5. Valle CG, Tate DF, Mayer DK, Allicock M, Cai J. A randomized trial of a Facebook-based physical activity intervention for young adult cancer survivors. Journal of Cancer Survivorship. 2013;7(3):355-368.
  6. Herring SJ, Cruice JF, Bennett GG, Davey A, Foster GD. Using technology to promote postpartum weight loss in urban, low-income mothers: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of nutrition education and behavior. Nov-Dec 2014;46(6):610-615.