Researchers investigate use of mHealth to get patients off the couch

A study on how texting and mobile messaging can drive physical activity among patients dealing with chronic weight issues may reveal that such interactive technology is a beneficial approach to helping patients struggling with obesity.

Arizona State University researchers, in a report published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, are reviewing data gleaned from a four-month research trial, called WalkIT, and hope to discover the role mHealth can play in helping the overweight patient population cut weight and live a healthier lifestyle through walking.

The research team says WalkIT is one of the first studies to focus on goal setting and reward structures to foster a consistent walking habit. During the trial, participants were provided a text message-based intervention via a Fitbit Zip device. The messaging component provided insight on daily step activity, goal setting and behavioral support and positive message reinforcement to achieve desired outcomes.

"The trial is expected to produce results useful to future research interventions and perhaps industry initiatives, primarily focused on mHealth, goal setting, and those looking to promote behavior change through performance-based incentives," the researchers say. "We hypothesized that participants in the adaptive goals and immediate reinforcement groups would increase their average steps/day more than participants in the static goals or delayed reinforcement groups. Secondary aims were to evaluate the effectiveness of the adaptive goal and immediate reinforcement interventions to improve psychological measures, aerobic fitness, and cardiometabolic risk factors."

An examination of research literature regarding the use of text messaging as a healthcare tool published last fall indicates that texting can benefit patients and boost treatment initiatives in several ways, such as via medication reminders and lifestyle coaching. Text messaging is also proving to help teenagers prone to binge drinking and is deemed to be a viable tool in helping Medicaid patients adhere to a medication regimen.

The ASU research team, which hopes to have preliminary findings by the end of this year, sent messages that featured motivational quotes, health risks of inactivity and encouragement notes. Participants were generally healthy but inactive, and ranged from 18 to 60 years old. They were tasked to self-report steps nightly via a custom developed interactive text messaging app. The Fitbit recorded steps and transmitted data researchers.

For more information:
- read the research paper at JMIR

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