By Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD
Healthnotes Newswire (June 25, 2009)—The ALIVE (“A Lifestyle Intervention Via E-mail”) program was designed to help people improve their eating and exercise habits through regular, workplace e-mail reminders. Researchers now have confirmed that this is a creative, low-cost method for helping people make better health choices.
How to feel more ALIVE
ALIVE study participants, 787 employees of a large healthcare organization, were randomly selected for the control group (no program) or to receive supportive services via e-mail and the Internet, including individually tailored, small-step goals; links to a personal homepage with tips and supportive information; additional educational materials on healthy diet and physical activity; and a tracking tool to assess progress in meeting individual goals.
The program goals were to get people in the intervention group to increase physical activity, and to eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer added sugars, saturated fat, and trans fat.
After 16 weeks, relative to the control group, the people in the intervention group reported:
• Increased moderate physical activity by 28 minutes per week and vigorous physical activity by 12.5 minutes per week
• Increased time spent walking by 21.5 minutes per week
• Significantly decreased consumption of saturated and trans fats
• Significantly increased consumption of vegetables and fruit
According to researchers, the people in the intervention group with the unhealthiest diets and who exercised the least at the beginning of the study had the biggest improvements in diet and exercise habits by the end.
Four months after the intervention ended, the improved health behaviors of the intervention group were still being practiced and were measurably better than the health behaviors of those in the control group.
A take home message you can live with
This research suggests that even something as simple as regular e-mail reminders and health information delivered through the Internet can help people make better food choices and exercise more. If you’re looking for a way to tap into a health promotion “e-program,” the following tips will get you on your way:
• Contact your human resources department and ask if they offer a supportive health behavior program. Many companies do, even though employees may not be aware of this.
• Check out the online programs and information offered at websites such as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, or the American Diabetes Association. Even if you don’t have heart disease or diabetes, the diet and exercise information is of excellent quality and appropriate for most healthy people.
• Consider an e-program, such as e-Diets or Weight Watchers Online. You can participate on your own time and you’ll receive nutrition information that fits your needs and dietary goals.
• Take advantage of the many free, online health support programs, such as those offered by FitDay.com and FoodFit.com.
• Make an appointment with a dietitian who offers online support. Once you have an initial consultation, many will provide this type of program for a nominal fee.
(Am J Prev Med 2009;36:475-83)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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