May 20, 2009

E-mail health interventions effective

Tailored e-mails sent to employees at work helped them improve their diet and get more exercise, a U.S. researcher says.

The takeaway message here for people who want to improve their diet and physical activity, and for employers who want a healthier workforce, is that e-mail intervention programs are a very cost-effective way to get healthy, study lead investigator Barbara Sternfeld of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research said in a statement.

A tailored e-mail program includes all the things that behavioral scientists have said for years about changing behavior -- small goals tailored for the individual, reinforcement and tracking but delivered in a mass, cost-effective way.

The 16-week, randomized controlled trial of the ALIVE -- A Lifestyle Intervention Via E-mail -- program was conducted at the work sites of 787 Kaiser Permanente employees in Northern California -- 436 of whom were controls. The rest received weekly e-mails suggesting small, individually tailored goals -- such as eating fruit three times a week at lunch or taking a 10-minute walk.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found the employees who were not regularly active before the program but received the intervention increased physical activities by almost an hour a week and these changes had a lasting effect four months after the intervention ended.