65 Million People Lost Weight With MyFitnessPal?

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65 million people lost weight with MyFitnessPal. Really?

Now, let’s see, according to Gallup, 18% of American adults are at their ideal weight, so we’ll assume they don’t want to lose weight.

That means 82% of American adults or about 198 million people might want lose weight. Thus, based on My Fitness Pal’s headline boast, their market penetration is nearly a third of the adults who need to lose weight, which is just boffo if you are a potential advertiser.

Or, is it? Observe, my dear Watson, as we play 20 questions with My Fitness Pal:

  1. How many of these people were repeat customers?

  2. How often did they come back?

  3. At what time intervals?

  4. When they came back, how much weight had they (re) gained?

  5. How much weight did the average user lose?

  6. How long did they keep it off?

  7. How many actually shifted an entire BMI category, going from obese down to overweight or overweight to normal?

  8. How many went in the opposite direction?

  9. How many users don’t reach any of their weight loss goals?

  10. How many people who were on a medication such as a statin, metformin, or an antihypertensive, were able to get off it?

  11. How many eventually went back on one or more drugs?

  12. What proportion of weight losers improved their fitness levels?

  13. How do you know the answer to number 12?

  14. Your homepage tells viewers “Eat whatever you want.” How is that sensible eating advice?

  15. What proportion of MFP users end up on some other weight loss program?

  16. How many end up opting for surgery or another invasive approach to weight loss?

  17. After I got my free MFP account, I logged in, and promptly clicked on the ad from the CruiseControlDiet (“Which Food Causes The MOST Weight Gain?”) to find out which food I should never eat. After an interminable, witless presentation, I learned…don’t drink orange juice. I also learned that I can order this entire program for just $39.99. How many of your users click on that ad and buy the Cruise Control Diet? What’s your share of the $39.99? What do you make per click?

  18. IF MFP is so flippin’ great, why even carry an ad from another diet scheme?

  19. Isn’t it in fact true that there is zero evidence of the utility of apps like My Fitness Pal?

  20. Isn’t your business model just like that of any other weight loss scheme? You need people to need you because that’s your path to selling ads and staying “free.” So, you not only need repeat and new customers, you actually have no incentive to produce stable long-term weight loss, because then, who needs an app?

I occasionally coach business executives on healthy living. One of my star pupils is the CEO of a large medical technology company. When he started working with me, he weighed 350 lbs. He lost 20% of his starting body weight and has kept it off for three years. We used a MFP competitor for a short time, and found it repetitive, unproductive, and unenlightening so we stopped.

We talk. I listen. He listens. We ask each other questions. He turns suggestions into action. He knows how to call audibles and improvise depending on circumstances. Sometimes I criticize him, and sometimes he criticizes me. We vent, make up, and here we are, making a little more progress every month, as he now envisions a long, healthy retirement, during which I believe he will not need my help.

Over the three years we have worked together, he has done nothing that I don’t teach people in my new e-book. His most important strategies: eat lots of produce; stop drinking all kinds of soda; stop drinking alcohol; stay as consistently active as possible given an insane travel schedule; get more and better quality sleep. The other thing he did was consider gastric banding surgery…for about a nanosecond. He went to a pre-op visit at the surgical center, took one look around and said, “Oh, no, I’m not doing this. I’m no quitter.”

Believe it or not, his two most powerful steps were probably stopping the soda and alcohol. The first because he just stopped drinking crap. The second had a vital ripple effect. His staff told him that his abstention gave them permission to abstain as well, knowing that he would have their backs if customers or vendors complained that they did not drink at business dinners. That, my friends, is corporate leadership on health.

My Fitness Pal is not leadership. It’s just another gimmick in a $60 billion market full of gimmicks.

Vik Khanna’s new e-book Your Personal Affordable Care Act: How To Avoid Obamacare, is available now in the Amazon.com Kindle Marketplace and at Smashwords.com. Vik is THCB’s Editor-At-Large for Wellness.


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13 replies »

  1. I have lost weight consistently and joyfully on My Fitness Pal, and used it after both of my children’s births as well as during typical winter gain. Needing to lose ten pounds in the cold months or after the holidays is common — I’m really grateful to have a no-cost tool that holds me accountable. Logging and recording a food and exercise diary works very well for me. Reminders on my phone to log in are incredibly effective and make the difference between picking up a tempting baked good in a coffee shop — or sticking to the plan.

    This is a very simplistic and ad-based blog entry – I’m a little disappointed in THCB.

  2. Hi Matthew,
    you are raising a perfect example of what happens in this field all the time. Someone does something really impressive, like get 65 million people to download their app. But instead of just saying that, they say something else altogether that can’t be supported.

  3. Vik, you appear to have missed the Hawthorne effect. I am sure than in a trial of people who tried to measure their calorie intake, versus those that didnt, those that measured were more likely to lose weight than those that did.’

    Whether those that didn’t were trying to lose weight is irrelevant. But those that were trying to cut down on soda, alocohol, etc might find MFP useful

    OTOH 65m is the number of downloads not the number of active users. So yes they should change that website tag line

  4. An obviously indefensible number. The app, like most of these programs (app or Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or whatever) are typically based on conventional, eat-less-move-more advice and the standard American diet. None work over time at anything above even 5%. Gary Taubes rightly calls it the weight cycling industry. Up and down, up and down….

    I too look forward to the response. Obesity and overweight (assuming it is properly defined and measured, another issue) are visible signs of an underlying metabolic condition that also drives heart attack, stroke, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and many more. This app would therefore be THE single great health innovation.

    Wow, magic on a phone. I think NOT.

  5. Nice work! Stick with it. Years 2 and 3 are the hardest.

    My tally says now we’re up to 1. I’d like to hear from the other 64,999,999

  6. I have used MFP, and lost weight with it. I don’t have a personal trainer or dietician or a “healthy living coach for CEO’s”. But MFP gave me a calorie target every day, and accounted not only for what I consumed but extra calories burned by exercising. Over the last year I have lost more than 35 pounds by sticking to it. I’ve let my MFP usage drop off some now, because over that time I have begun to develop new habits that have helped me continue to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way. I don’t know if their numbers are accurate or not., But to give a blanket dismissal of the app without acknowledging that it may very well be helpful to at least some users is an irresponsible attempt to gain some clicks and make yourself feel good about yourself (and plug your new ebook, I see) without bothering to actually GET answers to those question you posed.

  7. I’d like to hear My Fitness Pal’s response. I’m working out the numbers here. They would have about 10x the market share of Weight Watchers…and yet somehow no one has ever heard of them?

    Of course they won’t answer your questions. The last thing these sociopaths ever want to do is get drawn into a debate, which they invariably lose. But here’s the difference between MFP and the other wellness companies that have been profiled on this site: MFP is selling directly to the public, which means they are violating FCC rules.

    MFP, you have 72 hours to respond or I personally will turn you in.

  8. If they do have an explanation somewhere on their site, I have not found it. I’d love to hear any response from anyone in the wellness industry to anything that I and/or Al write.

  9. Remember, good futurists/doctors prescribe more apps than medicines.

  10. 65 million people have lost weight with them? That does seem like a pretty big number. How many unique visitors do they have? I bet somewhere on the site there is an explanation of what they mean. I’d love to hear a response on this one.

  11. 19. Isn’t it in fact true that there is zero evidence of the utility of apps like My Fitness Pal?

    Ding, ding, ding, we have a Winner!