New weight loss program developed at the University of Oulu – resulting in permanent weight loss

The web-based weight management program Onnikka, developed by the researchers at the University of Oulu, supports people in achieving permanent lifestyle changes by influencing their thoughts and attitudes. Persons using the program lost weight and, for most of them, their weight remained at the achieved level throughout the two-year control period.  

The recently published study was participated in by 532 overweight persons aged between 20 and 60 years. At the start of the study, the participants’ body mass index was 27–35 kg/m2, which means that they were overweight or obese. The participants were divided into groups, some of which then used the Onnikka weight management program weekly for one year. The participants were monitored for two years, and the follow-up procedures are still ongoing.

“Our study is an exceptionally comprehensive and long-term one,” explains Professor Markku Savolainen from the University of Oulu.

The people using Onnikka achieved significant weight reduction, and for most of them the changes were permanent.

The best results were achieved by combining the use of Onnikka with group counselling based on cognitive behavioural therapy. With this method, the obese participants achieved a weight reduction of almost five kilograms during the first year and maintained the results throughout the monitoring period, i.e. two years. The use of Onnikka alone generated a weight reduction of approximately two kilograms, and the result was permanent.

The best results were achieved by the obese participants (BMI 30–35 kg/m2).

There are several online programs available with no scientific proof of their functionality. Often a person begins to use a program but then discontinues the use if there are no significant results. “In our study, approximately 80 % of the participants attended a control visit after one year, and approximately 70 % came for the two-year visit,” Savolainen explains.

Background in smart technology

Developed by researchers, this programme is based on the so-called persuasive design, where the aim is to alter a person's attitudes and behaviour without coercion. Behaviour is controlled by means of various tasks, reminders, encouragement, persuasion and rewarding.

A special feature in this program is that in addition to the usual diet and exercise guidance, it draws attention to eating behaviour, such as emotional eating, conscious restraint of eating, impulsive eating and binge eating. In addition, it enables the provision of customised individual guidance for each user, where earlier eating behaviour is taken into account.

"Obesity is a considerable public health problem. However, only a few municipalities are capable of offering group guidance for the overweight persons, and the number of participants in these groups is very small. Furthermore, the long-term results of group guidance are not very good,” Savolainen explains.

With a web-based program, good weight loss results are achievable even without the involvement of health care professionals, which saves money. However, offering just any old application is not the solution. "It is essential to provide patients with an application that can be used to influence the individual behaviour of each patient. Just as we must find the right medication for each disease or discover some other suitable solution", Savolainen compares.

In 2017, almost three quarters of men and two thirds of women in Finland were overweight, which means that their body mass index was at minimum 25 kg/m2. Up to a quarter of the working-age population can be classified as obese, meaning that their BMI is at minimum 30 kg/m2. At the global level, it is estimated that 39 % of the population are overweight.

The study was published in the prestigious Journal of Internal Medicine. The study was conducted by specialists from the University of Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.


Professor Markku Savolainen
University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Research Unit of Internal Medicine
Tel:  +358 40 719 9838

Link to the article: A randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of a Web‐based health behaviour change support system and group lifestyle counselling on body weight loss in overweight and obese subjects: 2‐year outcomes.


Last updated: 6.7.2018