Can Email Help Your Health?
Study shows electronic messages may help you adopt better habits
Can what's in your inbox help you lose weight?
Absolutely, says Leah Carmel of Beltsville, Md.
"I've been with WebMD's Weight Loss Clinic since June of 2003, and I've
lost a total of 79 pounds," Carmel says, "I've had my share of hiccups,
but I've kept chugging along with the help of weekly newsletters from WebMD and
daily emails with 'Words to Lose by.'"
To her, these newsletters -- with links to articles on diet, exercise, and
health; status reports on Weight Loss Clinic members; and health-conscious
recipes -- are so much more than spam.
"I have a huge 6-inch binder full of all the newsletters, and I print
out each of the 'Words to Lose by,'" says Carmel. "I go back and read
them when I need to and that keeps my motivation going."
Indeed, a recent study indicates that contrary to popular opinion, spam can
be good for your health -- at least, when it's a steady diet of health-related
E-Dieting and Exercise
Researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, looked at the effects that
emails containing healthy information had on a group of Canadian workers.
During the 12-week study period, 1,566 members of the group got weekly messages
about healthy eating and physical activity. A comparison group of 555 people
did not receive the emails.
The researchers found that the group that got the emails increased physical
activity levels by about 3% and improved their eating habits, while those who
didn't get the emails decreased their physical activity by about 11% and
saw only a slight increase in healthy eating habits. The email group also ended
up with a small reduction in mean BMI (body mass index), while the mean BMI of
the other group went up slightly.
The email recipients revealed "more confidence in being able to
participate in physical activity, greater intention to participate in physical
activity, and perceived more advantages and fewer disadvantages of physical
activity participation," according to the study, published in the
July/August 2005 edition of the American Journal of Health
"The findings of this study suggest that email-based physical activity
and dietary messages can produce small changes in physical activity attitudes
and behavior and nutrition-related behavior," the researchers wrote.
The Impact of Email
American Dietetic Association spokesperson Susan Moores, RD, says the idea
"As a practitioner, I was delighted to see this research," says
Moores, a dietitian in St. Paul, Minn. "That people will pay attention to
health information in email is really exciting. It has great potential, and
that it can make a difference is really encouraging news."
What is it about email that can help encourage some people to stick with
their health goals?
"It's almost like a friend asking you how you are doing on your
diet," says Rick Hall, RD, who serves on the advisory board for the Arizona
Governor's Council on Health, Physical Fitness, and Sports. "If someone is
going to send you an email once a day or week or month, it'll force you to keep
your diet and exercise in mind."