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Noom Review: Good Science and Bad Ethics


Article edited for scientific accuracy by Illuminate Labs Blog Editor Taylor Graber MD

Noom is a weight loss app with a holistic approach. The company believes that psychology is important to successful dieting, so the app provides more than just calorie tracking. Noom users get exercise recommendations, mental health recommendations and personal support from a coach.

It’s true that human psychology can make losing weight easier or harder, but that doesn’t mean this app will necessarily be worth the money.

In this article we’ll review the app experience, how Noom works and some of the health claims they make, and suggest some alternatives.

Frustrating User Experience at Signup

We trialled Noom by visiting their site and completing their questionnaire. Rather than explaining at all how the service works, the site just pushes you to fill out an incredibly extensive and time-consuming questionnaire.

The one big “Continue” button on their homepage, and the only other button on the page which says “Learn More” on the right, both just open the questionnaire. As a user, you’d expect that clicking a button called “Learn More” would bring you to an informational page explaining how the app works instead of pushing you into a sales funnel.

This is likely an effective business practice since it pushes more users to make an account, but we don’t think it’s ethical for a company to publish basically no information about how the process works, what to expect and what the cost will be before you start submitting a bunch of personal health information to them.

Does Noom Work?

Arguably it does. A medical study which tracked nearly 36,000 Noom users found that nearly 80% of them lost weight while they were using the app.

In our opinion this wasn’t the most well-designed study, since there was no comparison group. Typically medical studies will include a comparative group so that the study can prove the approach is better than other strategies, not just better than doing nothing.

For example, if the study found that Noom was as effective or more for weight loss as a weight loss drug, or even more effective than work with a nutritionist, that would be really impressive.

Even so, the fact that most users lost weight proves the app is effective, especially given that most independent weight loss efforts fail. We can see how having personalized guidance and a virtual coach could help adherence to diet and exercise practices.

Noom has published several other studies in medical journals proving their app is effective for weight loss. There is definitely more science backing this product than backing nearly all other weight loss products or services we’ve reviewed.

Is My Data Safe With Noom?

Health and biometric data is some of the most personal data that exists, and it’s a huge responsibility for healthcare startups like Noom to ensure this data is secure from hacks and won’t be sold to third parties.

Noom claims on their website that they don’t sell user data, but their wording is vague. They state that they don’t directly receive payments for data, but in their Privacy Policy they state: “Noom may share your Personal Information with various business partners. Some of these business partners may use your personal information to facilitate the offering of services or products that may be of interest to you."

We find ​​this to be unethical. If Noom, for example, is telling a business partner which of their users is diabetic so the partner can target them with diabetic product ads, that would be intrusive and a breach of trust in the user’s confidential health information.

Noom also doesn’t publish much of any information about how they are protecting all of this incredibly sensitive health data from hacks. They simply state that they “follow generally accepted industry standards” which is boilerplate and useless info. Cybersecurity breaches are at all time highs, and a company that isn’t prioritizing cybersecurity is bound to get hacked.

Noom Customer Complaints

Noom has a pretty poor rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and was even highlighted in a BBB article for their deceptive business practices. Many customers apparently were billed even after cancelling free trials, and reported free trial terms to be “misleading”.

Noom Price

The price of Noom is relatively high, but not unreasonable considering some of the personalized services they offer. They charge around $66 for a monthly auto-renewing plan, but only $199 for an annual auto-renewing plan.

If you’re committed to long-term weight loss and decide to try Noom, we recommend choosing the annual plan since it will pay for itself after barely over 3 months compared with the monthly plan. The monthly plan costs $597 more after a full year than the annual plan.

Better Weight Loss Alternatives

Noom may be effective for weight loss, but there are cheaper options. Simply increasing fiber intake is one of the most effective ways to consistently lose weight based on medical research, and can reduce the “yo yo” effect of weight going up and down that Noom also claims to reduce.

Simply cutting calories but not changing dietary practices is usually ineffective because most people can only bear a state of constant hunger for so long. If your diet is a Standard American Diet (SAD), which includes many processed foods, trying to eat the same foods but in less quantities is likely to fail as a weight loss strategy because you’ll feel hungry all the time.

Increasing fiber increases the sensation of fullness for essentially zero added calories, which is why it can be so effective for dieting. Eating 2,000 calories of McDonald’s can easily be achieved in one sitting because the foods are so processed and low in fiber. Eating 2,000 calories of salad with pecans, or beans and rice, would be incredibly challenging because both of these meals are high in fiber and you’ll feel full faster.

We believe that adopting a nutritionally-dense and high-fiber diet is the most cost effective and healthy way to lose weight over time. It also is more comfortable than most diet models because it reduces feelings of cravings and hunger.

Conclusion

Noom is a strange combination of a health startup that actually has sound science backing it, but a lot of arguably deceptive and unethical business practices.

We believe that Noom can be effective for weight loss, but that there are cheaper alternatives for users who are willing to fix their diet.

The unethical business practices and risk of data breach worries us, and we don't recommend Noom for that reason. However, it’s a lot better of a service than some of the weight loss companies we’ve reviewed, many of which have zero proof they work at all.




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