New research will for the first time take a comprehensive look at the effectiveness of the increasingly popular internet-based weight loss programs.
University of Newcastle researchers will investigate strategies to help the 7.5 million Australians already overweight or obese to modify their lifestyles and improve their health through effective and accessible weight management programs.
Chief researcher Associate Professor Clare Collins said online weight management programs were relatively new but had enormous potential to help the battle against obesity.
"Internet-based weight loss programs can provide services to a large number of people, be accessible to city, regional, rural, remote and even international audiences, are private, can be accessed any time of the day or night and are highly cost effective," Associate Professor Collins said.
"To date, studies on the effectiveness of the programs are limited, provide unclear results and all but one had no longer-term follow up monitoring of participants, which means we have no idea what happens to people after they use the programs.
"By using a scientific approach, we can discover the best way to improve the programs and help those using the online programs get the best results possible and keep the weight off long-term."
The study will evaluate partner organisation SP Health's internet-based weight loss program the Biggest Loser (online) Club. More than 50,000 people have enrolled in SP Health's program since 2007.
Researchers will look at a range of factors including initial weight loss, post-intervention monitoring, gender differences, improvements in health status, online features used by participants, and retention issues.
"The use of the internet for the delivery of weight management services is under-explored relative to the take-up of online services in the home," Associate Professor Collins said.
"With 73 per cent of Australians having access to a home computer, and 64 per cent having access to the internet, using the online environment to deliver a weight management program is a logical and feasible strategy."
A grant of $240,000 from the Australian Research Council has been awarded for the project with almost $400, 000 contributed by SP Health over 3 years.
People interested in taking part in the study can call 02 4921 5405 to register.
Interviews/vision opportunity: Associate Professor Clare Collins and participants in SP Health's program will be available 12.15pm - 12.45pm on Friday 26 June 2009. Please meet at the main entrance to the Hunter Building (Griffith Duncan Theatre) at the Callaghan campus.