Both Internet-based and mobile-based programmes can help people become more physically active, eat better and achieve modest weight loss.

Using internet, smartphones and other devices can better encourage people to adopt healthy behaviours such as improving diet, increasing physical activity, and reducing tobacco or alcohol use, new research has found.

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“Both Internet-based and mobile-based programmes can help people become more physically active, eat better and achieve modest weight loss over 3-12 months,” said lead study author Ashkan Afshin, from the University of Washington in the US.

Researchers reviewed 224 studies conducted on generally healthy adults, published between 1990 and 2013. The studies evaluated the effect of using Internet, mobile phones, personal sensors or stand-alone computer software tools to inspire behavioural changes, such as improving diet, increasing physical activity, losing weight and stopping/reducing tobacco or alcohol use.

The study found that participants in internet interventions improved their diets, became more active, lost body weight, reduced tobacco use and alcohol use. Participants in mobile device interventions (using smartphone apps or receiving text or voicemail messages) increased their physical activity and lost body weight.

“Programmes that have components such as goal-setting and self-monitoring and use multiple modes of communication with tailored messages tended to be more effective,” Afshin said.

“We also found these programmes were more effective if they included some interactions with healthcare providers,” he said. “Clinicians can use such programmes to help people improve their lifestyle behaviours and reduce the risk of chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” he added.

The available research is limited because most studies lasted less than six months, providing little information on how effective and sustainable the behavioural changes will be over the long term.

Most studies were conducted in high-income countries with volunteers who were generally more highly educated and motivated than the general public. “Our study highlights several important gaps in current evidence on internet-and mobile-based interventions,” Afshin said.

“We need to evaluate their long-term value, effectiveness in different populations (such as the elderly and people from developing countries) and how different strategies may increase adherence to the programs,” he said.

The research was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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