Can mHealth efforts help you quit smoking? Depends where you turn

Two recently released studies show the flip sides of a single question: Can mobile technology help one quit smoking? The answer: Well...kind of.

One study, conducted by researchers at George Washington University and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine's March issue, indicates it shouldn't. The study compared a series of 47 apps against the U.S. Public Health Service's 2008 Clinical Practice Guideline for Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence, to see how closely they adhered to the guidelines.

The results: Abysmal. On a scale of zero to 60 points (60 being the best), the highest score any of the apps received was a 30. And most scored well below 10, the study reports. Researchers concluded that quit-smoking apps were simply ineffective. Interestingly, however, there was no clinical work to show whether they actually are effective or not.

Another, more clinically driven, study indicates that text messaging should work. Run by University of Oregon researchers, the study is published in Health Psychology, the journal of the American Psychological Association. It found that a series of eight anti-smoking text messages per day over a three week period was highly effective in stimulating the segments of the brain that work to fight cravings.

That study's conclusion: "Text messaging may be an ideal delivery mechanism for tailored interventions because it is low-cost, most people already possess the existing hardware and the messages can be delivered near-instantaneously into real world situations," researchers say.

The ultimate message? Perhaps less that text messaging is a bad solution for smokers, and more that existing apps haven't been harnessing the right type of brain power for the job.

For more information:
- read this study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine
- read this NewScientist post
- check out this press release from the University of Oregon
- here's the Health Psychology study's abstract