ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Air Quality Better in Northeast, Midwest
'Safe' Ozone Levels May Not Be for Some
Asthmatics Who Quit Smoking May Reverse Lung Damage
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Uncover Why Turmeric Helps You Heal
Massage Fosters Healing in Bereaved Relatives
Garlic Yields Up Its Health Secret
ANIMAL CARE
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
Safe Toys for Dogs
Beware of Dog Bites
BONES & JOINTS
Majority of College Students Report Backpack-Related Pain
Fall Sports Peak Time for Lower Leg Damage
For All Their Plusses, Pets Pose a Risk for Falls, Too
CANCER
Ginger Can Ease Nausea From Chemotherapy Treatments
Acupuncture May Help Relieve Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Vitamin C Shows Promise as Cancer Treatment
CAREGIVING
Are Hospital Mobile Phones Dialing Up Superbugs?
Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome
Hispanic Children More Likely to Have Hearing Loss
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Review Confirms Links Between Diet, Heart Health
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
COSMETIC
Health Tip: After Liposuction
Mouse Study Finds Molecule That Tells Hair to Grow
Science May Banish Bad Hair Days
DENTAL, ORAL
Dental Implants Need More Work Than Root Canals
Gum Disease Treatment Doesn't Cut Preterm Birth Risk
Gum Disease May Reactivate AIDS Virus
DIABETES
Vitamin K Slows Insulin Resistance in Older Men
Americans Consuming More Sugary Beverages
Diabetes Linked to Cognitive Problems
DIET, NUTRITION
Trans-Fat Ban In New York City Is Proving successful
Low-Fat Diet Does Little to Alter Cholesterol Levels
The Raw Food Diet
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
Rainy Areas in U.S. Show Higher Autism Rates
Think You Are Lead-Free? Check Your Soil
EYE CARE, VISION
Eye Test Could Spot Diabetes Vision Trouble Early
Too Much Sun, Too Few Antioxidants Spell Eye Trouble
Glaucoma Treatment Can Prevent Blindness
FITNESS
'Safe' Ozone Levels May Not Be for Some
You Can Get Great Exercise In The Garden
Exercise in Adolescence May Cut Risk of Deadly Brain Tumor
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Intestinal Bacteria Trigger Immune Response
Bowel Prep Harder on Women Than Men
HRT Use Raises Risk of Stomach Trouble
GENERAL HEALTH
15-Point Test Gauges Alzheimer's Risk
Vitamin D Best Taken With Largest Meal of Day, Study Finds
Play Creatively as a Kid, Be a Healthier Adult
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
Airport Full Body Scanners Pose No Health Threat: Experts
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Coffee Is Generally Heart-Friendly
Fructose Boosts Blood Pressure, Studies Find
Drinking Your Way to Health? Perhaps Not
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Chinese 'Devil Dung' Plant Could Be a Swine Flu Fighter
Poor Restroom Cleaning Causes Cruise-Ship Sickness
Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Flu Outbreaks
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Babies Who Eat Fish Lower Eczema Risk
Babies Cared For In Others Homes Might Become Heavy Toddlers
Too Many Infants Short on Vitamin D
MEN'S HEALTH
Soy Linked to Low Sperm Count
More Vitamin C May Mean Less Chance of Gout
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
MENTAL HEALTH
Vitamin C Protects Some Elderly Men From Bone Loss
Worries About Weight Are Tied to Teen Suicide Tries
Musicians' Brains Tuned to Emotions in Sound
PAIN
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
Prenatal Stress May Boost Baby's Asthma Risk
Acupuncture May Ease Depression During Pregnancy
SENIORS
Nighttime Urination Linked to Higher Death Rate Among Elderly
Living Alone Increases Odds of Developing Dementia
Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Moderate Aerobics May Ease Insomnia Symptoms
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Vitamin D Deficiency Puts 40% of U.S. Infants and Toddlers At Risk
Steady Weight Gain Boosts Late-Life Breast Cancer Risk
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
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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