Smartphones can make people 'heart smart' and healthier

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published September 1, 2016

Key Takeaways

Internet programs, smartphones, and other devices can successfully encourage people to get healthier and reduce risks of cardiovascular and other non-communicable diseases—at least for a few months, according to a systematic review published August 31, 2016 in Journal of the American Heart Association.

“Both Internet-based and mobile-based programs can help people become more physically active, eat better, and achieve modest weight loss over 3 to 12 months,” said lead author Ashkan Afshin, MD, MPH, ScD, Acting Assistant Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in Seattle, WA.

Dr. Afshin and colleagues reviewed 224 interventional trials and prospective observational studies, published between 1990 and 2013, that evaluated the effect of using Internet, mobile phones, personal sensors, social media, or standalone computer software tools to encourage healthier lifestyle behaviors, such as improving diet, increasing physical activity, losing weight, and stopping/reducing tobacco or alcohol use.

Because most of these studies lasted less than 6 months, the researchers couldn’t report on patient adherence or the long-term effectiveness of these electronic interventions.

But their review did show that Internet interventions effectively improved diet and physical activity, and reduced adiposity, tobacco use, and excess alcohol intake. Mobile device interventions (using smartphone apps or receiving text or voicemail messages) also effectively improved physical activity and reduced adiposity.

Internet interventions based on psychological theories of behavioral change increased the effect of the intervention and kept patients using it, particularly in studies of physical activity, the researchers found. “Programs that have components such as goal-setting and self-monitoring, and use multiple modes of communication with tailored messages tended to be more effective,” Dr. Afshin said.

“We also found these programs were more effective if they included some interactions with healthcare providers,” he added. “Clinicians, in particular in primary care settings, can use such programs to help people improve their lifestyle behaviors and reduce the risk of chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

Although this retrospective review offered positive findings, the researchers called for even more and better studies on electronic lifestyle interventions.

“Our study highlights several important gaps in current evidence on Internet- and mobile-based interventions,” Dr. Afshin noted. “We need to evaluate their long-term value, effectiveness in different populations (such as the elderly and people from developing countries), and how different strategies may increase adherence to the programs.”

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