Tackling obesity: using smartphones to shed the weight

The amount of people who are overweight or obese in Australia has increased over time. In 2007-08 the rate was 61.2%, and that number, like Australian waistlines, keeps on growing.

It comes as no surprise that obesity is partly driven by unhealthy food choices, with people moving toward appealing food cues (‘approach bias’). It is also, in part, caused by people’s preferences for immediate rewards (‘delay discounting’). Cognitive training strategies aimed at modifying these biases can help to improve food choice. But, in today’s world, can delivery of these strategies via smartphone also help prevent pound piling?

MICCN Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Naomi Kakoschke, focused on two particular strategies in her study: approach-avoidance training (AAT), which is training of motoric response inhibition or activation by consistently pairing stimuli with an approach or an avoidance action; and episodic future thinking (EFT), which involves projecting oneself into the future and pre-experiencing the achievement of a health-related goal.

“We examined the effects of AAT and EFT delivered via smartphone apps every day for one week with a group of 60 participants who were overweight or obese and aged between 18 and 45 years,” Dr Kakoschke said. “We measured the effects on approach bias for healthy and unhealthy foods, delay discounting for money and food rewards, and hypothetical food choice. And, we noted results at pre-training, post-training, and 6‐week follow‐up.

“We found that AAT reduced approach bias for unhealthy food and increased healthy food choice. However, EFT did not affect delay discounting or food choice. This says to us that AAT is indeed useful for improving food choice in obesity and that smartphones are a feasible, engaging way to deliver training.”

These findings could bring hope to the millions of Australians who are overweight or obese, presenting another option for achieving a healthy weight.

The full, published research paper is available here.

For more information on Dr Naomi Kakoschke’s research, please contact her on t: 03 9905 1402, e: naomi.kakoschke@monash.edu.

Want to know more about how the brain responds to food choices? Monash Lens explore the obesity epidemic here.

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