ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
Traffic, Dust Linked to Asthma in Kids
Keep Asthma, Allergies at Bay for the Holidays
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Acupuncture Eases Side Effects of Head, Neck Cancer Treatments
Traditional Chinese Therapy May Help Ease Eczema
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
ANIMAL CARE
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Beware of Dog Bites
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
BONES & JOINTS
Tai Chi May Help Ward Off Knee Pain in Seniors
Fruits and Veggies May Strengthen Bones
Vitamin K Doesn't Slow Bone Loss
CANCER
Seaweed May Help Treat Lymphoma
Smoking Ups Risk of Second Breast Cancer
Gene Studies Reveal Cancer's Secrets
CAREGIVING
Tainted China Formula Caused High Rate of Kidney Stones in Kids
Mom's Smoking May Lead to SIDS
Tiniest Babies Carry Biggest Costs
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Exercise May Blunt Salt's Effect on Hypertension
Vitamins Do Older Women Little Good
Laughter Can Boost Heart Health
COSMETIC
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
DENTAL, ORAL
Toothbrushing May Stave Off Heart Woes
Gummy Bears Join Cavity Fight
Sports Drinks May Be Tough on Teeth
DIABETES
Diabetes Linked to Cognitive Problems
Older Diabetics With Depression Face Higher Death Rate
'Standard' Glucose Test May Be Wrong One for Obese Children
DIET, NUTRITION
The Raw Food Diet
Western Diet Linked To Heart Disease, Metabolic Syndrome
Natural Oils Help Lower Body Fat For Some
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Fertilizer Ban Makes a Difference
Agent Orange Exposure Tied to Prostate Cancer Return
Cats Can Trigger Eczema in Some Infants
EYE CARE, VISION
Nearly 18 Million Will Have Macular Degeneration by 2050
Brain Adapts to Age-Related Eye Disease
Action-Filled Video Games Boost Adult Vision
FITNESS
Diet, Exercise May Slow Kidney Disease Progression
Good Warm-Ups Could Halve Sports Injuries
Barefoot Best for Running?
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
Intestinal Bacteria Trigger Immune Response
GENERAL HEALTH
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
Swine Flu Loves a Crowd
Want to Stop Cancer? You Can, Experts Say
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Relaxation Tapes or Mozart Lower Blood Pressure
Ingredient in Dark Chocolate Could Guard Against Stroke
Dark Chocolate May Lower Stroke Risk
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Poor Restroom Cleaning Causes Cruise-Ship Sickness
Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Flu Outbreaks
Swine Flu Is Now a Pandemic Says W.H.O.
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Obese Children More Likely to Suffer Lower Body Injuries
Play Creatively as a Kid, Be a Healthier Adult
Frequent Feedings May Be Making Babies Fat
MEN'S HEALTH
Strenuous Daily Workout May Keep Cancer at Bay
Vigorous Exercise Cuts Stroke Risk for Men, Not Women
Low Iron Levels Cut Cancer Risk in Men With PAD
MENTAL HEALTH
Optimism May Boost Immune System
Teen Internet Addicts More Likely to Self-Harm: Study
Keeping Mentally Active Seems To Keep The Brain Active
PAIN
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Music of Mozart Soothes the Preemie Baby
Acupuncture May Relieve Acid Indigestation In Pregnancy
Pregnant Women Exposed To Certain Pollutants Could Lower Childs IQ
SENIORS
15-Point Test Gauges Alzheimer's Risk
The Juice From Beetroots May Boost Stamina
For Older Walkers, Faster Is Better
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Moderate Aerobics May Ease Insomnia Symptoms
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Women Who Run May Benefit From Extra Folic Acid
Health Tip: Be More Comfortable During Childbirth
Air Pollution Slows Women's Marathon Times
Add your Article

E-Mailing Your Way to Healthier Habits

By Karen Pallarito
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 20 (HealthDay News) -- E-mail messages suggesting small ways to eat more healthfully or boost physical activity can significantly improve health habits, a new study has found.

Participants in a worksite e-mail program walked more, ate more fruits and vegetables and consumed less saturated fats and trans fats than workers who didn't receive the e-mails, according to a report in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

People whose dietary habits and physical activity levels were below recommended levels at the start of the study realized the greatest improvements, the researchers reported.

"What this study really tells us is that this particular program is effective," said the lead investigator, Barbara Sternfeld, a senior research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente research division in Oakland, Calif. "It gets the behavior change that we're looking for."

What's more, the program appeared to have a lasting effect. "Our data show, at least four months later, the behaviors were still sticking," Sternfeld noted.

Susan Finn, president and chief executive of the American Council for Fitness & Nutrition in Washington, D.C., said she's not surprised that the e-mail program succeeded, "especially in a workplace setting where people have easy access to a computer plus the support of colleagues."

Research has shown that "people who have a support system in place are better able to maintain the behaviors that keep them working toward or maintaining a healthy weight," Finn said.

An estimated 33 percent of U.S. adults are overweight, 34 percent are obese, and 6 percent are extremely obese, according to the latest data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.

Despite a glut of information on the benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise, fewer than half of the population are getting the minimum amount of recommended physical activity, fewer than 25 percent eat five or more fruits and vegetables a day, and about 60 percent consume too much saturated fat, the study authors noted.

In response, scientists are testing models of what they call "behavior change theory" aimed at motivating people to adopt healthy habits and stick with their lifestyle modifications. The e-mail program tested in the study is one such approach.

For the study, Kaiser partnered with NutritionQuest Inc., which developed the e-mail program, known as ALIVE! (A Lifestyle Intervention Via E-mail).

Participants in the study, 787 Kaiser employees, completed an electronic diet and physical activity assessment at the beginning. All respondents got instant feedback on how their health habits stacked up against national guidelines.

Of the group, 351 were randomly assigned to receive weekly e-mails and mid-week reminders with "small step goals" tailored to meet people's individual lifestyles and health goals. Participants were asked to work on one of three paths: increasing physical activity, increasing fruit and vegetable intake or decreasing fat and sugar consumption.

A mom on the physical activity path who didn't work out much and had children at home might have received an e-mail suggesting that she go to the playground with her kids two days that week and walk around the playground. A worker on the fruit and vegetable path who ate out frequently might have been asked to add vegetables to pizza and other carry-out dishes that week.

E-mail recipients and control-group members were surveyed again at the end of the four-month test period and again four months later.

After 16 weeks, the group that had gotten the e-mails showed significant improvements across all three paths. The most impressive gains were among those who, at the start, were not meeting recommended dietary and physical activity levels. Their participation in moderate physical activity, for example, increased by nearly an hour a week, compared with those who hadn't been e-mailed, and time spent on sedentary activities, such as watching TV, dropped by two hours a week.

Sternfeld said that she believes the e-mail program was successful because it was convenient for people and easy to follow. "People realized that, 'Oh, I can do this. I can actually do this particular behavior,' " she said.

Finn noted that "making small changes, letting them stick and then stepping it up as needed is the best way to modify eating behavior over the long run."

If your workplace doesn't offer health advice via e-mail, look around.

"All the major weight-loss programs have e-mail support -- which consumers must pay for, of course," Finn said. "Companies like Campbells and Kraft Foods, however, have free weight-loss tools on their Web sites and offer some interaction, such as message boards."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on improving health habits.



SOURCES: Barbara Sternfeld, Ph.D., senior research scientist, Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif.; Susan Finn, Ph.D., R.D., president and CEO, American Council for Fitness & Nutrition, Washington, D.C.; Kaiser Permanente, May 19, 2009, news release; National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; January 2009, Journal of Medical Internet Research; June 2009, American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Last Updated: May 20, 2009

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