Kids who are overweight lose more weight if they use an app on their smart phone than if they use traditional face-to-face support groups claims a childhood obesity expert - suggesting that anonymity is the key to their success.
Speaking at the European Congress on Obesity in Lyon, France, Dr Robert Pretlow from the Research Institute at eHealth International in Seattle - who runs a kids' weight loss site and has developed a diet app - said his research revealed that children using the anonymous website lost 7.4lbs or 3.4kgs compared with 10lbs or 4.5kgs on average among the youngsters using the app.
Dr Pretlow said: "Programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Drug Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous (OA), and Food Addicts Anonymous demonstrate that support groups are indispensable in the addiction treatment approach.
"The crucial point is that people remain anonymous.
"Group support helps the obese person tolerate withdrawal from problem foods and adds motivation to keep going. Re-addiction is prevented by socially learning to cope with life without turning to food."
Pretlow used his own interactive site weigh2rock.com for overweight youngsters as an example. He said users have posted in excess of 160,000 anonymous messages. Subscribers to the site - which has 17,628 users - have a mean age of 14.2 years, and mean body mass index of 32.7, making them obese.
His smart phone app "W8Loss2Go", uses anonymous online social networking to help kids wean themselves off junk food and overeating. It uses a buddy system, peer groups and mentors.
In a four month preliminary study of the app, 12 obese youngsters aged from nine to 22 years used the programme, with a mean weight loss of 10lb.
Dr Pretlow said: "Results of an exit questionnaire indicate that the social networking support was invaluable in participants becoming unhooked from their problem foods and large portion sizes.
"While weight loss from social networking is not as much as face-to-face weight loss programs, social networking is much cheaper and much more widely available.
"It is also ongoing for weight maintenance and dealing with relapses.
"Many young people using our website have posted that they have done so for five to 10 years, lost or maintained weight, left, and then returned when they relapsed."
Do you agree with these findings?
Isn't is simply that an app is less socially embarrassing than a group for a teen, and easier to use than a specific time and date?