April 1, 2017

Digital interventions for prediabetics seeking weight loss shown to be effective

A new meta-analysis published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that significant weight loss can be achieved with digital translations of diabetes prevention programs.

Image of person holding smart phone with health app



Some consumers are tossing their FitBits in the junk drawer. But there may be a new reason to reconsider technology in the pursuit of weight loss, especially for business owners conscious of the costs of workforce preventive health services.

The new paper, published in the open access Journal of Medical Internet Research found that technology-mediated weight loss programs were effective in promoting clinically significant weight loss. The research analyzed the results of eighteen digital weight loss programs in randomized controlled trials and cohort studies. The types of interventions range from diet and exercise curricula delivered through videos or text message, to web- and app-based goal setting and fitness tracking.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School conducted the meta-analysis, which drew from an exhaustive collection of 1186 citations, identifying the eighteen interventions that met the criteria for analysis. All of the interventions used technology exclusively to deliver remote behavioral weight loss programs. In addition, all programs specifically targeted people with prediabetes and high BMIs.

Ten of the eighteen interventions were modeled from the Diabetes Prevention Program, a lifestyle intervention program that aims to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes through weight loss. The DPP is traditionally delivered through in-person lessons and individualized counseling on diet, exercise, weight loss, and goal setting. More recently, programs have attempted to create digital versions of the DPP using a broad range of technologies, from live videoconferencing, to recorded video lessons, to text message support.

“What we found was that technology-mediated diabetes prevention strategies are effective and can be scaled up rapidly to improve access to the program and lower cost of delivery.  Such programs have the potential to dramatically decrease the burden of diabetes in the population,” said senior researcher Caroline Richardson, M.D., the Dr. Max and Buena Lichter Research Professor of Family Medicine.

 “Online approaches might be particularly valuable for companies that employ a workforce that is not geographically co-located.  Additionally, smaller businesses for whom the fixed cost required to support an in-person diabetes prevention program might be financially burdensome could direct at-risk employees to an online option at a much lower cost,” Richardson adds.

The meta-analysis study combined the results of 15 randomized controlled clinical trials and prospective cohort studies that investigated the effects of 18 technology-mediated diet and exercise interventions targeting those at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.             

The findings provide positive support for the effectiveness of digitally-delivered weight loss interventions to reduce the risk of diabetes. This is a good sign for consumers looking for an effective, technology-enabled alternative to in-person diabetes prevention programs and for employers and health systems in search of cost-effective, scalable preventive services to combat diabetes.

 Article citation: Bian RR, Piatt GA, Sen A, Plegue MA, De Michele ML, Hafez D, Czuhajewski CM, Buis LR, Kaufman N, Richardson CR. The Effect of Technology-Mediated Diabetes Prevention Interventions on Weight: A Meta-Analysis. J Med Internet Res 2017;19(3):e76 DOI: 10.2196/jmir.4709

Browse the latest research on clinical informatics and technology and preventive medicine for chronic conditions.