How can Artificial Intelligence Benefit Patients with Obesity?
— By Dawn M. Sweet, Ph.D
Using artificial intelligence can offer solutions and support to patients with obesity, but it’s better when paired with the support of a health care provider.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), technology that mimics human knowledge and performs tasks that are typically performed by humans,1 has garnered more attention recently due to advances in AI technology such as Chat Generative Pretrained Transformer, more commonly known as ChatGPT.2 Through machine learning, AI is trained to understand, e.g., interpret and respond to natural language. Human users interact with AI via a chat interface.1 AI is most commonly used in customer service — the friendly chatbot that appears when you select the “contact us” option on a website.
AI is also being used in medicine in contexts such as reading medical images, coding medical notes, identifying high-risk patients, identifying drug interactions, and even in domains such as writing.1,2 AI for weight loss, AI for patient monitoring, AI as a weight loss coach, and AI for patient engagement are areas that warrant consideration and exploration. Using AI can offer support and solutions for patients, but it is best when paired with a health care provider.
AI For Weight Loss
New research3 found that when a human is paired with AI, customers using a weight loss app lost, on average, about five more pounds than those who had only the support of AI. Examining data from 65,000 weight loss app users found that users who used the AI-only coaching feature lost only 1.5 percent of their starting weight compared to 2.7 percent for those customers who used the AI + human feature. To control for individual differences and motivations for weight loss, the researchers paired comparable users from each group in their analyses. Older adults, those with a lower initial BMI, and women were more likely to select the AI + human coaching feature. Additionally, weight loss goals were higher in this group and customers in this group were more likely to track their food and weight compared to the AI group.
In another study4 of 239 persons with obesity or who were overweight, AI was used to evaluate weight loss, changes in meal quality, and attitudes toward using an AI weight-loss app. Over 15 weeks, users averaged 103 sessions that were comprised of a text-based conversation between the user and the AI. On average, users lost 2.4 percent of their starting weight and nearly 76 percent of users lost weight while using the AI program. Consumption of healthy meals increased by 31 percent from baseline while a 54 percent decrease in unhealthy meal consumption was observed. Results suggest that a chat-based AI platform can lead to weight loss and changes in eating habits. Despite the promising results, which technology would be best in managing a patient’s diabetes needs to be determined by each health care provider.
How to Integrate AI into Patient Care
AI should not be used to replace a health care professional. AI should be used to complement and support treatment plans. There are several ways health care providers can integrate AI into their practice.1
- AI weight loss coach. AI can help health care professional develop tailored diet and exercise plans to meet their patients’ needs. The underlying algorithms can use patient data, medical records, and health status to help optimize a plan. AI can also be used to help patients stay on track with their weight loss goals and to follow their healthy eating plans and exercise programs. It can offer nutritional guidance and offer suggestions for meal planning to ensure patients are consuming an appropriate amount of calories each day and that they are high quality, nutritious calories.
- AI patient monitoring. AI can help health care professionals by analyzing big data sets to identify patterns that may signal an increase in obesity-related complications such as type 2 diabetes or compromised cardiovascular health. AI-powered apps can also help monitor patients’ daily activity and food intake as well as sleep patterns.
- AI patient engagement. AI can provide insight into a patient’s behavioral patterns and help develop a plan to shift non-preferred health behaviors in a more healthy direction. Additionally, AI can also be used for consultations, telemedicine, and including scheduling appointments. Patients can also use AI for personal education and personalized learning via tutoring.
Implications of AI for a Weight Loss Practice
As noted above, AI should not be used as a replacement for health care professionals. Early research is showing that patient outcomes in the context of weight loss is optimized when a human practitioner is paired with AI. AI can be used as a weight loss coach, for patient engagement, and for patient monitoring. Adding AI to your practice can help patients achieve sustainable weight loss and weight maintenance and it can help health care providers design tailored healthy eating plans and exercise plans for their patients with obesity. When designing a healthy eating plan, it is important to consider the role of Low Calorie Diet (LCD) or Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD), particularly when paired with a nutritionally formulated meal replacement plan.