Background: Most dietary programs fail to produce lasting outcomes because participants soon return to their old habits. Small behavioral and environmental changes based on simple heuristics may have the best chance to lead into sustainable habit changes over time. Objective: To evaluate participant retention, weight outcomes, and barriers for changes in a publicly available web-based healthy eating and weight loss program. Methods: The National Mindless Eating Challenge (NMEC) was a publicly available, online healthy eating and weight loss program with ongoing recruitment of participants. This volunteer sample consisted of 2053 participants (mean age 39.8 years, 89% female, 90% white/Caucasian, BMI mean 28.14). Participants completed an initial profiling survey and were assigned three targeted habit change suggestions (tips). After each month, participants were asked to complete a follow-up survey and then receive new suggestions for the subsequent month. Results: In terms of overall attrition, 75% (1549/2053) of participants who completed the intake survey never returned to follow up. Overall mean weight loss among returning participants was 0.4% of initial weight (P = .019). Participants who stayed in the program at least three calendar months and completed at least two follow-up surveys (38%, 189/504) lost on average 1.8 lbs (1.0%) of their initial weight over the course of the program (P = .009). Furthermore, participants who reported consistent adherence (25+ days/month) to the suggested changes reported an average monthly weight loss of 2.0 lbs (P < .001). Weight loss was less for those who discontinued after 1-2 months or who did not adhere to the suggested changes. Participants who reported having lost weight reported higher monthly adherence to suggestions (mean 14.9 days, SD 7.92) than participants who maintained (mean 12.4 days, SD 7.63) or gained weight (mean 12.0 days, SD 7.50; F = 14.17, P < .001). Common reported barriers for changes included personally unsuitable or inapplicable suggestions, forgetting or being too busy to implement changes, unusual circumstances, and emotional eating. Conclusions: Because the bulk of the free and commercially available online diet and nutritional tools conduct no evaluation research, it is difficult to determine which aspects of a program are successful and what are reasonable expectations of results. The results of this study suggest that online interventions based on small changes have the potential to gradually lead to clinically significant weight loss, but high attrition from publically available or "free" programs still remains a challenge. Adherence to and effectiveness of small habit changes may be improved through further tailoring to individual circumstances and psychological needs.
|Journal||Journal of Medical Internet Research|
|Publication status||Published - 2012|
|MoE publication type||A1 Journal article-refereed|
- self report
- small changes
- weight loss programs