Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society

2012 Research Abstract

Effects of a mobile phone application intervention on medical student weight loss and perceived patient counseling ability

Investigators: A Velazquez, LQ Rogers, D Steward, D Patel, G Mueller, S Verhulst

Mentor: Laura Q. Rogers, MD, MPH, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

Introduction: Increasing medical student diet and exercise knowledge is important for combating the obesity epidemic in the U.S., but training related to diet and exercise during medical school is limited. Furthermore, medical students often have poor diet and/or exercise habits and improving these habits could enhance their patient weight loss counseling attitudes and behaviors. No prior study has examined the weight loss effects of a mobile phone app intervention among medical students nor has any prior study examined the effects of such an intervention on medical students’ perceived ability to counsel patients about diet and exercise behaviors for weight loss. Therefore, the primary aim of this study was to determine whether a 6-month weight loss intervention involving an app for calorie tracking on their personal mobile phones affects weight loss in medical students. The secondary aims were to determine 1) factors associated with weight loss during the intervention and 2) changes from baseline to post-intervention in the students’ weight management behaviors (e.g., diet, exercise) and attitudes toward counseling patients about weight management.

Methods: Thirty-seven medical students who were interested in losing weight and owned a mobile phone were recruited to participate in this prospective pre/post intervention study. The intervention involved using “MyFitnessPal" app daily for 6 months combined with monthly weigh-ins and weekly submission of their diet/expenditure logs to study staff. Knowledge, attitudes, and behavior were assessed with self-administered survey at baseline (i.e., August/September 2012) and follow-up (i.e. February/March 2013).

Results: The declines in body weight and body mass index from pre to post-intervention were not significant (-2.4 ± 9.1 lbs, p= .149 and -0.37 ± 1.4, p= .151, respectively). Participant age, gender, year in medical school, and baseline body mass index were not significantly associated with weight loss or number of days for which energy intake and expenditure logs were kept using the mobile phone app. However, race was associated with the percent of days logged in. There was a significant change in the total diet knowledge score (p= .006) and confidence in ability to counsel patients about weight management from pre to post-intervention (p= .000).

Conclusion: The amount of weight loss occurring during a 6-month mobile phone app intervention was small and non-significant in this pilot study. Importantly, a significant improvement in counseling confidence and diet knowledge occurred during the intervention suggesting the usefulness of the phone app as one component of a comprehensive medical school nutrition curriculum.

Updated on August 7, 2013.

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