If there’s one thing we’re willing to drop some dough on, it’s weight loss. Dieters can spend thousands on gym memberships, healthy eating programs, and weight loss surgeries, all in the quest to find their fittest, slimmest selves.

With the climbing rates of people who are overweight or obese, researchers are desperate to find more effective – and more cost-effective – ways to help people get healthy. Now they’re turning to the World Wide Web, which recent studies show could be the easy, accessible, and affordable option they’re looking for.

A 143-page analysis, published online in the Cochrane Library, assessed data from 4,140 adults in a review of 18 randomized studies and found that computer-based and online programs do in fact help dieters drop weight and keep the weight off.

After six months of following computer or online weight-loss programs that included interactive features, message boards, and messaging capabilities, participants in the various studies lost a greater amount of weight than participants who received more basic care, like a workbook or pamphlet on weight loss. Those who were in weight-maintenance programs also kept the weight off better using computer-guided tools than those who received basic care.

After examining the studies, the review authors concluded that “Computer-based interventions have a positive effect on short-term weight loss and short-term weight loss maintenance.” And not only are they effective, they’re also easily accessible for millions of people and more affordable than invasive surgeries or trendy diet plans.

Other studies included subjects who participated in in-person weight loss programs. These individuals, who attended monthly or weekly meetings for weight loss, tended to lose the most weight overall. Unfortunately, notes the lead author of the review, “health care providers have limited opportunities to provide this care.”

Other options must be made available for widespread effective weight loss and maintenance. Finding a less labor- and resource-intensive way to help more people lose weight, even a small amount, would make a large impact on the national or global scale. With the aid of studies like these, says another co-author, “health care providers can make evidence-based recommendations” that will be particularly helpful in a world where more and more patients are turning to the Internet to get healthy.

The studies examined for this review did not include smartphone or tablet-based weight loss apps, but researchers hope to look into their effectiveness in the near future. If they’re anything like they’re computer-based counterparts, the future looks very bright for dieters.

For a list of online services that will help keep your thin and trim please check out our Weight Loss category.