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Using Wireless Scales in Weight Loss Studies
Connect and measure
Wireless scales can connect to research study technology platforms, creating a virtual connection between coordinators and participants. The primary value of wireless scale is that, once connected, they can transmit data directly to the researcher with little effort needed from the participant. This can reduce or eliminate the need for in-person visits for weigh-ins. It also has the value of giving researchers more complete data, since participants do not have to take any additional steps to transmit their measurements to the research team.
Wireless home scales are accurate to +0.2 lbs. and allow for multiple users. The scales have ID recognition features that prevent transmission of other household members’ weights to the study investigators. Wireless scales can connect to research study technology platforms, creating a virtual connection between coordinators and participants.
Our research team at the University of Pennsylvania Prevention Research Center (UPenn PRC) recently conducted research on the most effective strategies to promote weight loss in overweight/obese employee populations. We designed and implemented an 18-month intervention study with a 6-month follow-up at three large employers in Philadelphia. Employees were randomly assigned one of four different strategies: financial incentives for meeting weight loss goals, environmental change messages that promoted healthy eating and physical activity, combined incentives and environmental change messages, and a “usual care” control group that involved using the worksite’s wellness resources and programs. The study compared how effective each strategy was for achieving weight loss.
How we used the scale and software
This study used a web-based platform to enroll, communicate with, and track participant weight change. Wireless scales were used by participants in the three treatment groups (but not the control group) to digitally transmit daily/weekly weights. All daily weigh-ins were tracked through a remote website platform.
We asked participants to weigh themselves daily on the wireless scale, and every 6 months we asked them to come in for an in-person weight check – usually held at their workplace for convenience.
Our study used Withings scales and followed their instructions, but other brands use similar technology, and that technology is evolving rapidly. Users of the toolkit should search out the best option(s) available when designing their research. We’ve provided resources at the bottom of this page.
Instructions for using the Wireless Scale
We provided support to the participants of the study, including detailed instructions to set up the connection between the scale and their mobile phone. It’s important to make sure the participants’ mobile phones are compatible with the scale before they get started.
1. Download the Health Mate app
2. Set up an account
3. Connect the device
4. Tap Scales > Wireless Scale
5. Tap Install
6. Turn on the scale (make sure the battery tab has been removed)
7. Tap Next “Wireless Scale Connected”
8. Enter the account information and confirm your password
9. Set up Wi-Fi network
Most wireless scales can manage up to eight users on one scale. You can either “Share Your Scale” in one account, so that everyone has access to the data of the others, or you can set each person up with their own Health Mate app, keeping their data private. Note that the “Share your scale” option is only available if you have originally set up the scale in Wi-Fi. If you’ve set it up in Bluetooth, you’ll have to install the scale from scratch on the new account.
Data Collection and Security
Withings provides data collection products to accurately track a participant’s activity, blood pressure, weight, sleep, and temperature. The manufacturers have designed the system with banking-grade encryption methods—and Withings employees cannot access identifiable personal health data without user consent. Contact the support and logistics team if you plan to use a wireless scale in your research, so they can make sure you have the tools you need for your study.
What you need:
• A wireless scale
• Online account (comes with the brand you purchase)
• Computer, tablet or mobile phone
• Health Mate app or similar app on a mobile device
• Web-based platform to collect data – we used the University of Pennsylvania – Way to Health platform.
• Technical support team available to the study participants
Glanz K, Shaw P, Hoffer K, Chung A, Zhu J, Wu R, Huang E, Choi R, Volpp K. The Healthy Weigh study of lottery-based incentives and environmental strategies for weight loss: Design and baseline characteristics. Contemporary Clinical Trials, Jan 2019, Volume 76, pages 24-30.