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It is well established that regulations in the weight loss industry are slack enough to allow potential harm to consumers, and many advocate for the government to strengthen existing laws. The vested interests in the market are a serious concern, with the weight loss industry in the US alone generating around $60.5 billion in revenue across 2014, according to Marketdata Enterprises.
One might imagine that the wealth of information now online might help individuals to become more informed, but in such an unregulated industry the abundance of both crafted and ignorant misinformation available has led to a sea of confusion in regard to good practice. People are consuming products with little benefit, and in some cases serious risk to health.
Apps for fitness
The boom of apps dedicated to the weight loss industry has not only augmented the existing surfeit of books, exercise programmes, magic milkshakes, pills and dietary supplements, machines, clothes and other weight loss paraphernalia and services. It has also, to an extent, challenged that tottering body of devices, threatening to reduce the profusion.
Apps exist now which work as diet trackers, calorie counters, exercise aids and body building coaches. There are those which aim to control appetite and or influence us in making decisions when dining, shopping or simply eating.
Are these apps healthy for you?
Some of the most popular apps have proven to be not only doubtfully effective but potentially harmful. For example, one of the most popular is the 7-Minute Workout App that claims to provide an effective circuit routine for losing weight and strengthening muscles based on 12 exercises done daily.
The app is only recommended for people who are actually fit enough to push their bodies into a short high intensity workout regime. This means that the elderly, people with heart disease and hypertension or those who have suffered a previous injury are not supposed to use it. In fact even people who are merely overweight are advised against its use. There is of course no way to enforce this advice.
Another problem related to free online calorie counters and diet planners such as MyFitness Pal is that their use could generate or contribute to an unhealthy and unnatural relationship with food.
Counting with a click absolutely every calorie we take in might be useful for losing weight, but not necessarily for developing healthy long term habits or ways of thinking about our own consumption.
Personalised training apps such as Fit Star are based on pushing our bodies to their limits. Such virtual trainers or coaches are mostly basic and largely underdeveloped pieces of software which can raise the risk of personal injury, especially with those who have had previous injuries or obsessive behaviour. The accountability just isn’t there with virtual replicas of personal coaches, at least not yet.
Achieving fitness goals?
Undoubtedly many of these new apps can help to achieve new fitness goals if used correctly and in combination with the advice and aid of health experts.
However the trend in their actual use is not so balanced. Individual apps continue to go supernova and hit viral status, and for now the control just isn’t there to prevent some of these tools from exacerbating certain negative or dangerous habits possessed by individual losers. As a result self-harm can be the ironic result of an action taken the name of getting fitter at the very ease of a click.
Begley CE (1991) Government should strengthen regulation in the weight loss industry, School of Public Health, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston 77225,
Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 91(10):1255-1257.
Market Research (2014) The U.S. Weight Loss Market: 2014 Status Report and Forecast,
February 01, Marketdata Enterprises Inc.
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