Long-term effectiveness of mobile, internet health interventions remain uncertain

As technology advances at a fast rate, companies are searching for ways to use mobile and internet applications to improve peoples’ health and help them become more active. So far, some of the interventions have been successful, although more research is needed to determine whether the outcomes are sustainable in the long-term.

Researchers recently conducted a systematic review of studies that evaluated the effect of internet, mobile phone, personal sensors or stand-alone computer software on diet, physical activity, adiposity and tobacco and alcohol use.

They identified 224 studies that met their criteria and found that internet interventions improved diet, physical activity, adiposity, tobacco use and excess alcohol intake. Meanwhile, mobile interventions improved physical activity and adiposity. The results were published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association on Aug. 31.

Despite the encouraging findings, the researchers noted that most of the studies lasted less than six months, were conducted in high-income countries and included volunteers who were usually more motivated to participate and more educated than the general population. The studies often had low adherence rates, as well, particularly those trials with more than three months of follow-up.

Still, the researchers provided a few ideas on improving the effectiveness of internet and mobile interventions. For instance, they found that interacting with providers could increase the success rate, as could the use of evidence-based behavioral change strategies. They also suggested that interventions that provide individually tailored data could be more effective than traditional strategies such as mass media campaigns, environment changes and school-based programs.

“Although our findings suggest that internet and mobile interventions are promising for lifestyle modification, the effect sizes of these interventions depend on multiple factors (for example, the content and components of the intervention) and could be widely varied across studies and over time,” the researchers wrote. “The present study only evaluated the efficacy of internet and mobile interventions for primary prevention of [noncommunicable diseases] and did not assess their effect in patients with chronic disease, highlighting the need for similar evaluation of evidence in this population.”