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Web-based weight loss works – but has to be gender specific

Research from Halmstad University shows that web-based weight loss programmes might be the solution to obesity in society. The study also came to some unexpected conclusions – for example that men comfort eat more than previously thought. And that the effect of the treatment differs depending on gender.

– Through this study, we’ve concluded that web-based weight loss programmes work. It’s about finding new ways to help overweight people, as current resources and methods aren’t enough. The web-based weight loss clubs is one way, says Madeleine Svensson, doctor of Medical Science at the School of Social and Health Sciences at Halmstad University.

Society’s resources not enough

Today, every other man and every third woman in Sweden is overweight and society’s resources aren’t enough to remedy the growing problem. Together with researchers from Karolinska Institutet, KI, Madeleine Svensson has studied the eating behaviours of individuals who are members of The web-based weight loss programme was started by the KI obesity center in 2002 and has to date helped hundreds of thousands of Swedes lose weight.

From the study, the researchers have made several interesting conclusions:

  • Overweight men display a somewhat higher level of emotional eating behaviour compared to women, but this eating behaviour is significantly reduced after their involvement in a weight loss club.
  • Eating behaviours can be changed through a web-based weight loss programme and that change contributes to weight loss.
  • Weight loss programmes have to be tailor made based on gender and behaviour.

Men comfort eat more

Three different eating behaviours were studied: emotional, uncontrolled and restrained eating. The eating behaviour changed drastically for the participants of the study during the six months. They reduced their uncontrolled eating behaviour generally and increased their restrained eating. The restrained eating behaviour was clearly connected to weight loss in both men and women.

The study also showed the somewhat unexpected result that emotional eating, i.e. comfort eating, was more common in men than in women at the start of the weight loss programme. But after three months, the men’s emotional eating had decreased, while the women maintained the same level (see graph to the right).

– The most important conclusion of our research is that the weight loss treatments need to be reviewed. It’s clear that men and women have different eating behavious and the treatment needs to take that into account, says Madeleine Svensson.


The largest online study on men

Data for the study was collected in 2008–2009, but the research results are published this autumn in the renowned scientific publication Journal of Medical Internet Research. The study is based on questionnaire answers from 620 members of Aftonbladet’s The individuals answered the questionnaire three times during a six-month period: at the start of the membership, after three months and after six months. Of the 620 participants, 96 are men, which makes this the largest study to date of eating behaviours during web-based weight loss programmes in men. However, it might prove difficult to generalize the results of the study due to a high drop-out rate among the participants.


The article published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research is:
The Change in Eating Behaviors in a Web-Based Weight Loss
Program: A Longitudinal Analysis of Study Completers


Madeleine Svensson, PhD, Halmstad University and Karolinska Institutet, Mari Hult, MD, Karolinska Institutet, Marianne van der Mark, PhD, Karolinska Institutet, Alessandra Grotta, PhD, Karolinska Institutet, Josefine Jonasson, MSc, Obesity Center Norrtull, Yvonne von Hausswolff-Juhlin, MD, PhD, Karolinska Institutet, Stephan Rössner, MD, Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset and Apple Bay Obesity Research Center, Ylva Trolle Lagerros, MD, PhD, Karolinska Institutet.

Madeleine Svensson, doctor of Medical Science and the School of Social and Health Sciences. Photo: MAGNUS ANDERSSON

”The most important conclusion of our research is that the weight loss treatments need to be reviewed. It’s clear that men and women have different eating behavious and the treatment needs to take that into account”, says Madeleine Svensson.

The study showed that emotional eating was changed significantly in men but not women in the weight loss programme.

Updated 2014-11-07