Last updated: 29.10.11

'More must be done' to help dieters through e-learning

E-learning in the dietary market is an upcoming phenomenon that requires a clear definition in order to be a successful aide to people trying to slim down, according to a recent report.

Individuals who use e-learning may like to adopt mobile forms of the tools derived from the online classroom to guide them to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Phil Edwards, PhD, a senior lecturer in statistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and member of the team of British reviewers, suggested that with the increasing popularity of smartphones and other portable devices such as tablets and ereaders, there is a window for the medical world to access people who are in need of dietary information and nutrition guides.

Commentators have mentioned that the apps designed to change and improve eating habits may not have as much of an effect as talking to somebody about healthy lifestyle face to face, but it can give an extra dimension to the advice, which people can access away from medical professionals.

"E-learning is a relatively new development in self-management and we were very interested to see what its effect on dietary behaviours might be," Mr Edwards said.

"Factors such as the local availability of healthy foods at affordable prices, marketing of energy-dense foods by the food industry, as well as habits learned from family and peers can influence dietary and eating patterns. These wider determinants of dietary behaviour are unlikely to be changed by individually targeted interventions such as e-learning."

A review by the college showed that out of 43 research trials using e-learning, 14 studies aimed to change behaviour by having the user set dietary goals and then provided feedback on performance and prompts on how to reach those goals. These formats where the user could record calorie intake were more successful than advice-giving versions.

Overall, the researchers concluded that there was no significant change in weight by the people using e-learning as a weight loss aide.

But Mr Edwards said that work to improve the relationship between digital and practical advice could provide better results and that people can keep a close eye on their diets while they are on the go.

Popular apps for smartphones used to count calories include iWatchr, WeightDate Weight Tracker and Lose It!