When I started my freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania, I was shocked to see that every meal was buffet style and there was no limit to what I could eat. As a Korean immigrant who lived below the poverty line during middle school and high school in an economically depressed neighborhood of Philadelphia, I was used to simple meals such as white rice, kimchee and a Korean spinach dish for dinner. However, relative food insecurity in my Korean-American household later resulted in my overindulging at Penn: I passed the freshman-15 mark before I was halfway through my first year in college.
Unfortunately, weight gain in a short amount of time — such as putting on 15 or more pounds upon starting freshman year — can have detrimental health effects, such as an increased risk for obesity, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. To avoid such health risks, I made use of fitness and calorie-counting apps to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Fitness apps allow users to input how much they exercise and then calculate the number of calories burned. By allowing users to understand how many calories they burn through exercise, fitness apps can provide weight-loss estimates. Moreover, these apps serve as a motivator and reminder to exercise. Users can build custom plans to reach specific health and fitness goals.
Calorie-counting apps function on a similar basis. On these apps, users record meals, snacks and drinks they consumed throughout the day. These apps provide an estimate of weight gain or loss. By using calorie-counting apps, users can adjust how many calories they consume based on weight predictions. In addition, calorie-counting apps can serve as an important source of nutritional information, allowing users to understand if they are meeting daily nutrition goals and to more readily achieve a nutritional balance.
Because fitness and calorie-counting apps are relatively recent, specific benefits for app users have not been confirmed, and the few studies that have been conducted are inconclusive. In fact, a study evaluating fitness app MyFitnessPal found no difference to users’ health — both users and nonusers of the app lost 5 pounds during the observation period. Additional research evaluating a series of health apps discovered that only a few apps lead to tangible weight loss for users, since most available apps are not based in science.
Another study, however, concluded that fitness-app use for runners resulted in increased motivation to run, as well as weight loss. Research in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that fitness and calorie-counting apps provide a self-accountability system that works as a motivator on a daily basis. The National Institute of Health, American Heart Association and American Council on Exercise also encourage keeping a food diary to help achieve health and wellness.
Although there is no consensus in the research about the benefits of using health apps, my personal use of the apps has helped me achieve a healthy lifestyle. I reduced my calorie intake by over 2,000 calories per day, and I have lost about 50 pounds as the result of using these apps to enhance my diet and exercise. Being a nursing graduate student requires physical fitness that needs to be certified officially by a physician, and I am in certifiable good health thanks in part to these apps.
For college students engaged in multiple extracurriculars who are always moving from one place to another in hurried engagements, cell phone apps provide convenience and systematic organization. In this day of free and effective cell phone apps, students can easily harness the power of technology to their advantage.
Using exercise-tracking and calorie-counting apps can be a quick and easy way to keep record of calorie intake and calories burned through exercise and other daily activity. These practices can provide peace of mind, a sense of control over one’s life and actual health benefits in terms of weight loss.
Heerak Kim is pursuing a Master of Science in nursing. Dissecting Health Care appears online every other Tuesday.