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?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


I have a Nook, which I use mostly for reading but recently I've been exploring the apps that Barnes and Noble has for the Nook. I downloaded one yesterday (an ab workout) but haven't yet used it. I don't anticipate getting an iPhone. Any chance Sparkpeople would be doing any work with B&N to offer apps for that device? Report
I still don't have a smartphone. Getting an actual phone with a contract isn't expensive, but the mandatory data plan kills me! I wish I could have SparkPeople everywhere I go, but for now, I'm so grateful for the website! Report
Love the app. Just wish it included a few of the extras that are available on the website the one cannot get when surfing on a "flashless" iPad. Report
Yes! I love the app, and carry it all around the gym to add my exercises as I hit each machine.

Wondering if there is any way to group machines/exercises you generally do together in a workout like there is for foods you generally eat together.

Thank you so much for all you do to keep SP on the leading edge of greatness! Report
I love the app. It is definitely the best app out there. But I wish I could access my strength training favorites on the app. I'll input all my info and then by the end of the day need to find a computer to log my strength training - which is easier than trying to enter all of it individually on the phone. Report
Yep I have the SP app on Evo. I use it all the time. Even at home where I could use my desk top PC. Report
I'm a nerd and a late adopter. I still have a flip phone, don't know how to IM or tweet or Skype. It took me three years after ATMs were introduced before I would use one. I figure eventually I'll get a smart phone of some sort, but not just yet.

That said --- Congratulations to Spark People for developing the number one app for smart phones. I know that the website is wonderful (I rate it number one), so it's nice to know that it's sibling has those honors also. Report
When I buy my iPhone as a late birthday present for myself (aka in three weeks when the new one comes out and I can get the "old" one for $99), I'll be sure to have SparkPeople on my phone as a backup when I can't get to my computer! And I'm glad to see my school taking part in some of this research! Report
I have a Droid and I found the app before the web site. Love both the app and the web site! I am not surprised that the app made number one. Report
It will be the first app I get when I get my new smart phone. Report
I use the app on my droid incredible and I like some of the features but like someone said the barcode thing would make some of it go SO much faster and easier.. another thing I would LOVE is a widget that shows how many calories I've eaten and have left for the day and how many calories I've burned this week.. those two things would make it perfect to me.. many other apps have the widgets and currently I'm using sparkpeople as my guide but I have another I keep playing with just because of these features.. Report
I love the SparkPeople app for my Android phone.

My one request is that the Healthy Recipes app has the ability to be stored on the SD card vs. the phone's built-in memory. The SP app allows this and other recipe apps allow this, but the Healthy Recipes one does not. It is taking up valuable and limited memory space and I may delete it soon if this feature isn't added. Report
I would love to be able to update my status, blog and spin the wheel all from my phone! Generally speaking, I'm thrilled with the SP Android app, but adding those features would make it so much better!
(btw, I also don't see where we can track fruit/veggie counts on the app) Report
I use it on my Droid all the time, and when someone asks about my weight loss, I pull it out and show them my trackers. Report
more incredible is the fact that the SparkPeople website is free, with all they offer! I have the app, but never use it. I have a hard enough time remembering to use everything at the website. I seldom use my cell phone. Report
I have the Sparkpeople app for my Droid. It comes in very handy! I can log in my food and exercise on it when I can't get to the computer. Report
I can't wait for there to be opportunity for social/sharing on the sparkpeople app! my friends use a different app so that they have that tool, but I still prefer sparkpeople, and and holding out for this development. :-) Report
One thing that needs to be added to the app is the ability to scan a barcode on a product to quickly add a food to your tracker. This feature is available in other apps and is fantastic as you dont have to spend time searching. Report
Just got my first smartphone last night. I have been a member here for over a year and just love it. So as soon as had my new phone charged I downloaded your food tracker. Now I'm off to do the same with the healthy recipes. That will really be helpful when Im out grocery shopping and forgot to bring my shopping list of items needed for a new recipe. Thank you SparkPeople! Report
I use spark app for my Ipad daily. I miss there detailed reports which are on the web site. Report
I use my iPhone spark to track fitness, water, and food.
Miss being able to read daily entries through it. Report
We just got a Samsung Galaxy Tab. and I'm lookin forward to beeing able to get on the tablet, will I still be able to get the app. on this devece? It will enable me to track my foods while beeing out and about. Ihope I can get this on our new tablet?

I don't have a smart phone, and hope never to need one, but I'm glad SP is consistent in its quality across the boards. Report
I love the SparkPeople and SparkPeople Recipes apps! I have them on both the BlackBerry phone and Android tablet. It's so convenient to track my food and fitness on it and, when in a pinch, I can search for a healthful recipe to make! Report
We're #1, sweet! I use the Spark apps on my iPhone and iPad, wouldn't do without them. Btw, I'm Mostmom on Words with Friends. LOL. Thanks for the blog. :) Report
I have an iPhone & the SparkPeople app on it too I love it. Thank you so much for sharing the blog with us. Report
2.A recommendation for and ability to track daily servings of fruits and vegetables
Where is this on the iPhone app? I've seen it on the desktop version but cannot find it on my app.

I track almost exclusively on the app, that's how I discovered SparkPeople and, for me, it's more user friendly and much quicker than tracking on a desktop. Like DAYHIKER I miss the DailySpark blogs and wish there was a way to get login points and track fruits and veggies.

I'm glad to see this study announced what we all already knew. SparkPeople is the best. Report
I love the SP app on my Droid! It's so great log my food or fitness on the run, wherever I am. It helps keep me accountable when going out for lunch, for example, knowing that I can log it or even check nutritional info right then and there. Report
Please make your app available to Barnes and Nobles so I can download and use it on my new Nook Color. I'm one of those people that is WAY behind the tech and does not have a smart phone, heck I just got a cell phone less than a year ago lol Report
I have used the sparkpeople app while away from home. I tried using it via internet on the IPAD over Labor Day, but wasn't able to get food and exercise logged in. Now I have the app on the IPAD and I can log in both. I was away at a conference last week, but the hotel didn't have wifi where I was, so I missed again. We aren't the only ones slow in getting techy!! My primary use is via computer, the old fashioned way!! I am also slow at cable, no smart phone, but it's coming whether we like it or not! Thank, Nicole for all that you do for us!! Report
It was interesting for me to read this blog as I two have researched many diets through the internet. It appeared that every diet plan had some sort of fee involved. In this day and age with the economy the way it is, I cannot justify paying an absorbadent amount of money to help me lose weight. But I was desperate and joined weight watchers during one of their promotions of waiving the initiatation fee. After a few months, I could not justify paying close to $40/month for information that was easily accessible through web browsing. Furthermore, being unemployed, I must watch where I spend money. Through my phone I was tracking food and fitness through lose it, but did not have access to helpful hints. As I continued to explore inexpensive support sights I came across SparkPeople and instantly joined, not only because it was free, but it provided all the information and support I need to help me through this journey of taking back my health and my life. Thank you SparkPeople! Report
I love the SparkPeople iPhone app and use it daily! I do miss having The Daily Spark blogs on it like it did before though that isn't critical to its purpose. Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.