Technology often gets a bad rap when it comes to health because of the belief that innovative systems improve efficiency and encourage sedentary behavior.
However, a new study shows that a combination of mobile technology and remote coaching holds promise in encouraging healthier eating and physical activity in adults.
The study, sponsored in part by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health focused on the best way to change multiple health behaviors.
The study results are published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, with an accompanying commentary authored by William Riley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and program director for the NHLBI.
In the study, researchers evaluated 204 overweight and obese adults who admitted a diet high in saturated fat and low in fruits and vegetables. The study participants also reported little daily physical activity and high amounts of sedentary leisure time.
The investigators assigned participants to one of four groups:
- Increase fruit and vegetable intake and increase time in moderate/vigorous physical activity;
- Increase fruit and vegetable intake and reduce time in sedentary leisure activities;
- Decrease fat intake and increase time in moderate/vigorous physical activity;
- Decrease fat intake and decrease time in sedentary leisure activities.
All participants were provided with a mobile device and were trained on entering information about their daily activities and eating patterns.
Health coaches studied the information participants entered into their mobile device and then phoned or emailed participants to encourage and support healthy changes during the three-week study.
Participants were also asked to continue to track and submit their data over a 20-week follow-up period.
Financial incentives were offered to participants who met goals during the study and for those that continued to participate during the follow-up period.
All four groups showed improvements in reaching the assigned health goals, with the most striking results occurring in the group asked to increase fruit and vegetable intake and reduce sedentary leisure activities.
The researchers found after 20 weeks of follow up that this group’s average daily servings of fruits and vegetables increased from 1.2 to 2.9; their average minutes per day of sedentary leisure activity dropped from 219.2 to 125.7; and the percentage of saturated fat in their daily calories went from 12 to 9.9.
Experts believe mobile technology to improve cardiovascular health can be a method to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.
The ubiquity of mobile technology allows timely sharing of health information to providers and/or health coaches allowing appropriate support and feedback.