Researchers Name Best and Worst Weight-Loss Apps

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Sometimes I find it funny that I work for an Internet company like SparkPeople, because I am not a tech person. I'm what marketers would call a "late adopter" to technology trends. I still don't have an HD TV or even cable; I use a converter box with real antennas! And my car definitely doesn't have built-in TV, Bluetooth or navigation either.
I was late to get a cell phone. Late to getting text messages. WAY late to getting a smart phone (I finally got one in January 2011 when my very old flip phone broke). I'm still a little slow when it comes to downloading and using apps for my phone. I have a few that I really like, and they make my life easier in some ways and more fun in others (Words With Friends, anyone?).
But apps are where it's at. I know this, and whether you use a few like I do or a large number of them, you probably know it, too. The iPhone tagline "There's an app for that" applies to almost anything you could think of, including your goals for weight loss, exercise, and healthy eating.
Do a search for "weight loss" or "diet" on your app store, and you're likely to find several hundred—or even thousands of—results, depending on your phone. Trouble is, according to researchers, no one is really evaluating whether these apps are really do help people and offer good advice or if they're just a bunch of fluff. Just because an app is named popular based on how many times it's been downloaded, or rated highly by users doesn't mean it's going to give you helpful tools to reach your goals.
So researchers from Duke University Medical Center and the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services set out to evaluate weight loss apps to name the best and worst; they published their results in the Journal of Translational Behavioral Medicine (full text PDF). They evaluated more than 200 weight-loss apps based on 13 criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health, among others. Only one came out on top.
According to study researcher Emily Breton, MPH, the SparkPeople app is number one, according to their study.
SparkPeople's weight loss app, available on iPad, Blackberry, iPhone and Android met 12 of the 13 criteria used to evaluate the accuracy and effectiveness of weight loss apps:
  1. An assessment of one's weight (via BMI or other interpretation)
  2. A recommendation for and ability to track daily servings of fruits and vegetables
  3. A recommendation for weekly physical activity goals
  4. A recommendation for and ability to track daily servings of water
  5. Ability to track one's daily food consumption
  6. Ability for users to calculate how many calories they need to eat given their activity level
  7. Weight loss recommendation of 1-2 pounds per week
  8. Information on portion control or ability to access nutritional information for foods based on serving size
  9. Ability for users to look up nutritional facts for foods
  10. A weight tracker
  11. A tracker for exercise and/or daily physical activity
  12. Meal plans or recipes
The only criteria SparkPeople didn't meet was the final (13th) criteria for social support, which was present in less than 3% of apps studied. However, our full website is rich in social support features (and we have some improvements coming in this area very soon).
Would you believe SparkPeople's app has all that and it's still free? Whether you're a tech person or not, if you do have a smart phone, consider downloading our free app to use when you're on the go. It connects directly with your existing SparkPeople account and allows you to look up and track foods when you can't get to the computer; plus simply seeing it on your screen can be a great reminder for you to keep your goals in mind. We may not be the most downloaded app (yet!), but we're happy with being named the best.
We're so happy to have received this recognition, and promise to continue working hard on improving our free apps, as well as our other online resources. You can learn more about all of our apps at
Do you use any of SparkPeople's apps? Will you try them after this research-backed recommendation? What are some of your favorite apps?

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Life hypnosis is now my new companion everyday. It is the best app for weight loss. Try it and you will see and feel the difference. It is available in the app store. Just search for: Life Hypnosis or you may click the link here: Report
Why isn't the app free any more?? :( Report
I have used the app a little. I tend to do it online though. I just wish I could use the app on my ipod touch had the barcode scan feature like the android has. Report
I especially love the SP app for iPad. Our iPad lives on our kitchen table and the easy-to-use app makes quick work of tracking! Report
that's awesome! i'm still late to get a smart phone -- but i'm only a college student so i'll take whatever my parents give me! luckily my current phone is dying out, and the sparkpeople app is literally the only reason that I want to get a smart phone in replacement. can't wait! Report
I don't use my Spark People app often enough but I do love the fact that it's there for me whenever and wherever I need it. I've been doing Weight Watchers at work and I still have not been able to figure out how to use their phone app. Spark People is a great community where I get real inspiration that puts me back on track when needed and keeps me on track when I'm physically able to work out.
I love using SparkPeople app! It's my go-to app for anything relating to healthy living. Report
I love using SparkPeople app! It's my go-to app for anything relating to healthy living. Report
Sparkpeople IS the best! Hands down! Report
Funnily enough I got the sparkpeople app first which led me to the site :-) Report
I'm glad to know that spark people has an app. I'm interested in trying it. I've also used and liked the loseit app. Report
I use the app on my Droid and it works well. I would like to also be able to track my sugar on the app. That way I could enter the numbers when I'm away and not have to write them down to enter them when I got home. Report
If I had a phone that got 'apps' I would definitely get the SP app. Report
I use my app on the IPhone every day. I think it is easier to track food and exercise on the app than on the web, especially the fitness. Just a great app. Report
I haven't been tracking like I should and have gained some weight back so I am looking forward using the app. I saw that they have an experimental bar code scanner too! So now I only have to scan a barcode and it brings up the product to add to the tracker. It didn't always give the exact product but it still did a great job and AK definitely going to use this option whenever I can! Thanks for the great FREE resources!
I've had the SP app since last summer and I LOVE it. It's really been a life saver, especially when I've gone through periods where I wasn't able to access a computer. Being able to track my food on the go makes eating out at restaurants that much easier too, and I can have instant access to information like how many calories I've eaten so far or how many calories I burned while exercising. :) Report
Hmm Where is the list of top ten? Where do RUnKeepr and Weight Watchers rank? (I also use those). Report
I love the Droid app and also have the ipad app but I would like it if the social was included. I'm sure it will be in the future but if not, hey, this is all free anyways! Incredible :) Report
I use 2 apps. maymywalk and sparkpeople. I'd like an app that could like a fire under my butt to motivate me. Report
I am with the katboxjanitor when she said"I can't even look at the app until they make one for the Windows 7 phones.
Yes, I can surf the web on the phone but the app is much more simplier. Report
I love my iphone app. It would be nice to have the social aspect that the website does have, but its not a necessity by any means. I continue to be amazed at all the free stuff that's available on this site, its why I continue to spend money on the stuff that isn't. Report
LOVE MY SPARKPEOPLE WEBSITE AND BLACKBERRY APP!!!! Don't know where I'd be without them ...... Uh, on second thought, yes I do: About 20 pounds heavier, LOL! Report
I have the application on my IPod Touch and on my Droid phone. I can't get the application on my phone to work well, it's too frustrating and doesn't seem to have "My Favorites," when it comes to tracking food. I have given up using it. I do like the application for my IPod, but to use it I have to be connected to internet which is usually at my home and I'd rather use my pc if I'm home. I've considered getting an iphone just because I have heard good things about the Spark app and would love having access to is while away from home. Report
Sounds great! Report
My phone only goes ring-a-ding........a cheapy but good to have in case of emergency Report
I don't even have a working cell phone (ran out of minutes) and have no real desire to own one - I am certain if people knew my background they would think I am crazy but I am just not interested nor do I want to jump on anyone else's bandwagon- so for a change Nicole I am with you. Report
I still have a "dumb phone", but maybe someday........ Report
Eager to see the improvements in the social support area! So many apps/mobile sites handle forums, blogs, and article viewing well, I was disappointed in the near impossibility of accessing these from my phone on sparkpeople. Report
I like the SP app for my I-phone, but I don't see how it tracks fruit & veggies. Am I missing something?!?!? Report
WWF, FTW! (that's "words with friends, for the win" in case you're not acronym savvy :^)

No smart phone here, either (heck, we don't even have a TV!), but I do have an iPod Touch! I liked the sparkpeople app better when it still incorporated the blog posts. I do use it to keep track of my daily weigh-in. I have tried the food trackers on numerous apps and I hate them all - they seemed designed for people who eat packaged food, or who want to keep track of way more nutritional info than I care to (I just want a simple food diary). Report
I use the app on my iPad and its great. The only problem I have is there is some sort of incompatability when it comes to entering food. The iPad app does not allow you to scroll when selecting a food item. Report
That is so fantastic! Congrats SparkPeople! I wish I could afford a smartphone - maybe someday! Report
i use the android app to log my food and activities when I'm out of town and away from my computer. Report
I love the SparkPeople app on my iPhone. Keep up the great work in helping people on the go! Report
I can't say I'm too surprised -- Spark is one of the few online resources that incorporates fitness, nutrition, mentality, and socializing all into one health website. Why wouldn't the app be just as good? (Now, if there were just a SparkPeople app for the windows phone, I'd be set!) Report
I have the app on both my iPhone and iPad. I do all of my sparking on my iPad. I am able to do everything on my iPad that I can do on my Mac book pro laptop. There isn't a feature that I use that can't be done on the iPad. I even plan my meals a week ahead on the iPad and then print them out to take along on vacation.

Congrats Spark! Report
I use my browser on my blackberry when I can't get to the hotspot and it works just fine. Can't log strength or stretching on fitness and it sometimes goes crazy when I'm logging my food but overall it's great. I can interact with all that I do when I'm on the computer. A blessing! Thank You Coach Nicole! Report
Still using "stupid"phone! But so grateful for the website. I am new and have tried others but this is the "bomb". Love "My Nutrition" tracker, the friends, the exercise tips, actually, just everything. Report
I use the SparkPeople app on my Android phone nearly every day. Love it!

Thanks for mentioning the Words with Friends app. I recently discovered the joys of this game via Facebook. I'll have to see if I can find it for my phone, too. Report
I can't even look at the app until they make one for the Windows 7 phones.
I love the convenience of my iPhone SparkPeople app. I don't use it much (only on the weekends, when I'm not at my computer), b/c I'm on the computer most of the time, but when I'm on vacation it is KEY, and I love having it as my backup when I'm not on the computer. Thanks, SparkPeople! And congratulations for being named Number One! Report
i LOVE the iphone app and use it often otherwise if i turned on my computer after i got home i wouldn't go to bed on time !!! and i've used the recipe app when shopping at times. These are absolutely wonderful !!! Thank you so much Report
I really am old fashion I do not have cell phones, or cable television, or even go out to eat, well may be about twice a year. But I do have the internet to keep in contact with my kids who both live out of state. However I like spark people even though I have not lost much weight I have not gained any either. I like this better then weight watchers as I can do everything when it is a good time for me and not for ww. I guess you don't know what your missing if you don't have it. Report
I recently upgraded my phone and downloaded the Sparkpeople App. I'm trying to use it more to get used to it! Way to go, Sparkpeople!! Report
I use it and I love it! Having it on my iPad has completely replaced my pen and paper journal.
PS left this comment with my trusty little iPad. Report
I just downloaded it. I'll see how much I use it. Report
I use it all the time Report
Didn't know this app existed. I am definitely going to check it out. Thanks Spark people for the tip. Report
Thanks for writing a wonderful article Report
I don't have a cell phone and wonder how people lived before they came out. LOL Report
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