€5 million research project’s hi-tech approach to European obesity

22 April 2015

A European obesity project has been awarded €5 million (£3.9 million) to research the effectiveness of mobile phone apps and other hi-tech aids in helping people lose weight and maintain their weight loss.

The NoHoW (or Navigating to a Healthy Weight) project will closely follow 1,000 volunteers in a randomised controlled trial (RCT) over three years as they aim to lose weight using a toolkit comprising online tools and wearable devices to monitor physical activity and patterns of food intake, weight control behaviours, stress and emotional state. These will be linked through smartphone apps and internet-based tools with tailored advice and feedback on a weekly basis built in. Volunteers will be based in Derby (which is leading the trial), Lisbon and Copenhagen (where the project will be coordinated).

The European Union’s ‘Horizon 2020’ initiative – its largest ever research and innovation programme, spending almost €80 billion over seven years (2014 to 2020) – is funding the NoHoW  project. Millions of Europeans are classed as obese or overweight, which is not just seen as a health issue but also has enormous economic cost.

Researchers will begin by surveying 2,000 successful slimmers on what worked for them and then develop an ‘online platform’, a website featuring a range of online weight loss aids and phone apps which volunteers will be able to log onto and access for help.

NoHoW’s international project partners are:

Kedleston campus looking towards the library

In mid-2016 the project will recruit 1,000 volunteers; people aged 18 to 60 who have lost some weight and want to maintain the loss. Their weight and measurements, and use of the online tools, will be monitored closely for 18 months. Health organisations and obesity experts will be updated on findings throughout the project.

The results of the trial are expected to be published in mid-2018, with a NoHoW Consortium and Slimming World then using the information to help people in the wider world. Slimming World will be investing its own money in any commercial development of the findings.

Professor Berit L Heitmann, Coordinator of NoHoW and Director for the Research Unit for Dietary Studies at the Parker Institute, Copenhagen University Hospital, says: “The challenge is not to make people lose weight – most can do this – but to maintain the lost weight afterwards, and we hope with this project to develop and test the required technology and interventions needed.”

Professor James Stubbs, Slimming World researcher and Miles-Bramwell Chair in Behaviour Change and Weight Management at the University of Derby – will lead the trial.

He said: “There are already numerous online weight loss tools, including mobile phone apps, but we don’t have strong evidence of their effectiveness. This project uses the most promising evidence of what actually works for weight management – including strategies of self-management, motivation, emotion regulation and stress management and brings this evidence together with mobile technologies. For weight loss measures to work they must motivate users to lose weight, help them regulate their weight and deal with and overcome dieting’s emotional stresses, such as the sense of shame and failure that occur during lapses.

“The success of the NoHoW project’s large bid was due to the European Commission’s belief that any research should have real impact on European obesity. With a commercial partner like Slimming World, which has around 800,000 people regularly attending its meetings, we can implement the eventual results across a wide population, rather than the information going no further than academic journals.

“Mobile technology is a rapidly developing field and as tools are developed over the period of the project, especially new mobile phone apps, these would be incorporated into the final solutions we develop,” Professor Stubbs added.

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Nutrition and Research at Slimming World said: “As the UK’s leading and largest weight loss organisation we are committed to staying at the cutting edge of innovation and developing our online tools and programme to develop sound evidence based support to help people to lose weight and keep it off.

“We are proud to be a partner in this project and are excited about the possibilities it has for improving our members’ experience and successful long term weight management.”