Obese Patients Lose 10% of Body Weight in just 6 Months thanks to new Digital Tracking Program

Around one-third of Americans are now obese and with obesity taking an average of 10 years off of someone’s lifespan the implications are clear:  The US population is going to lose approx 10 billion life years.  Dr. Jamy Ard has been working with digital technology to try to stop the slide.

Dr. Ard runs a weight loss program at his North Carolina center at Wake Forest Baptist Health based in Winston-Salem.  The participants receive a set of digital scales to take home and these send daily weights back to Dr. Ard’s team.

The team also tracks other metrics like how much physical activity takes place, food choices and water intake, sleep and so on.  The average weight loss experienced after 6 months on the program is 10% of total body weight with 44% of patients experiencing a weight loss of 15% of body weight and over.

Dr. Ard spoke about the program with David Freedman, Newsweek contributor, to discuss the opportunity to integrate the management of obesity with digital health.  He spoke of the need to deliver patient-specific strategies in order to increase prevention and cut costs.

How can digital approaches be used to treat obesity?

When people participate in self-help or commercial weight loss programs then tend to lose only around 4% of body weight.  Many people who suffer from severe obesity have concurrent health issues so they progress better and faster in a tailored comprehensive program of treatment.

A big challenge is to keep the weight off after it has been lost.  Obesity must be treated in the same way as any other chronic disease by recognizing that stopping treatment increases the risk of relapse.

Engaging people in ongoing treatment that will last indefinitely has always been a huge challenge but technology is helping provide useful solutions.  The patients can keep closer contact with clinicians with the use of remote monitoring and taking advantage of virtual visits to keep in touch with dietitians, behavioral coaches, and doctors.

This gives all the advantages of an in-clinic visit without any of the disadvantages for the patient like trying to schedule appointments and so on.

What is the patient population you work with?

The clinic sees approximately 750 new patients each year.  Our typical patient is middle aged.  They come from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, many are dependent on Medicaid or Medicare and around 40% are African-American. Most of our patients already have another chronic disease eg., high blood pressure or diabetes.

Females are more represented than men, making up about 80% of patients on our program.  This is not that unusual as men don’t tend to enter the health system as frequently as women and this is especially true when it comes to issues around weight.

How does AI (artificial intelligence) help the process?

Obesity is often related to several other factors.  These can include the type of diet someone eats, how much physical activity they take, their gender, but also things like mental health, socioeconomic factors and culture play a part.  Some of these factors are hard to identify and are seldom recorded in medical health records.

If an AI could provide some standard questions for the patients that would identify some of this it would be of great use.  This could then be entered into a machine-learning system which would analyze the data and determine how likely a treatment is to be successful for a particular person.

This is obviously all a theory at present, we don’t know if it will definitely work for obesity just that it could and, of course, although AI has a useful role it will never replace the importance of interaction with a human clinician.