At a time when many are honoring freshly made resolutions by counting calories and paying closer attention to what they eat, weight loss plans and healthy eating tips have been at the forefront of recent media coverage. Earlier this month Consumer Reports tapped into its readership to rate and rank diet and fitness plans. Last week, U.S. News & World Report published its own ranking, which was compiled by a panel of diet and nutrition experts. In addition, there have been a handful of studies debating smart snacking options, and validating the low-fat lifestyle.
The U.S. News & World Report panel assessed, rated and categorized the tenets of 29 popular diets according to their ease of compliance, diabetes control and management, heart health, weight loss, safety and nutritional completeness. Weight Watchers took top honors in the Best Weight-Loss Diets, Best Commercial Diet Plan and Easiest Diets to Follow categories. The Mediterranean Diet took first place as the Best Plant-Based Diets, while The Ornish Diet took the Best Heart-Healthy Diets spot. The DASH Diet swept three categories: Best Diet for Healthy Eating, Best Diabetes Diet, and Best Diet Overall.
A Consumer Reports’ survey of 9,376 readers rated 13 diets representing two categories, commercial plans and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) plans. In the commercial category, Weight Watchers got one of the top reader scores (74), followed by Medifast (70), Jenny Craig (66) and Nutrisystem (56). In terms of initial weight loss, Medifast was the only commercial plan to receive an above average Rating. In fact, dieters said they lost more weight on the low-calorie Medifast program than any other diet rated by Consumer Reports: a typical weight loss of 20 to 43 pounds for men and 14 to 40 pounds for women. Weight Watchers received top scores for allowing a variety of foods and for encouraging calorie awareness, exercise and consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Regardless of the chosen diet discipline, two of the top weight loss takeaways Consumer Reports gleaned from its survey was the need to keep weight loss expectations realistically in check, and the importance of tracking caloric intake and physical activity.
Worth noting was that the “scoring satisfaction” of even the top ranked diet was outshined by a free smart phone app called MyFitnessPal, which received an overall satisfaction score of 83 and top marks for maintenance, calorie awareness and food variety.
Using Social Media for Weight Loss
Using technology to encourage weight loss isn’t just an idea that could prove beneficial for adults. According to an American Heart Association statement that was published in the association’s journal Circulation, social media may be an effective way to help children overcome obesity too.
“Online communication and social media are an increasing part of our lives and our overall social network of family, friends and peers,” said Jennifer S. Li, MD, MHS, chair of the writing group. “Healthcare providers should embrace its potential as a tool for promoting healthy behavioral change.”
The writing group evaluated research on Internet-based interventions to lose weight, increase physical activity and improve eating habits.
"The studies we looked at suggest that more parental involvement and more interaction with counselors and peers was associated with greater success rates for overweight children and teens who participated in an online intervention," said Dr. Li, division chief of pediatric cardiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC.
Variables that influenced success were whether the rest of the family was involved in the intervention, the degree of back-and-forth communication and feedback with a counselor or support group, and the frequency with which kids and adolescents logged on and used the programs.
People who are overweight or obese tend to share a home or spend their leisure time with others who are overweight or obese, according to research.
"Athletes tend to hang out with athletes, and overweight kids hang out together so they reinforce each other’s eating habits or preferences for recreational activities," said Dr. Li.
About 95% of 12- to 17-year-old children have Internet access at home and/or in school, so online social network health interventions should be explored as an effective way to prevent or manage excessive weight. “Some research shows that even in virtual social networks, people tend to associate with others like themselves,” she said. “So if you develop a network of kids who are overweight, you can have an impact on all of them—in the real world and online—because if one starts making healthy changes, the others will be influenced to do so as well.”
However, the downsides to social media include exposure to cyber bullying, privacy issues, sexting and Internet addiction that can cause sleep deprivation, Dr. Li said. “Doctors need to understand digital technology better so that they can offer guidance to patients and their families on avoiding such issues, and will be aware of any such problems that occur.”
The authors conceded more research was needed to provide data on overweight and obese adolescents to determine whether differences in gender, ethnicity, geographic location and socioeconomic status affect the efficacy and level of engagement with social media and technologically-based weight management interventions.
“Teenagers are texting and using Facebook and other social media as their primary communication with their peers, and we need to find out what factors can be incorporated into social media that will increase the effectiveness of these interventions to initiate and maintain weight loss in kids and adolescents,” Dr. Li concluded.