E-mail prompts spur activity in online lifestyle intervention programs

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Online lifestyle intervention programs are more useful when users are prompted by frequent e-mails encouraging them to stay on track, a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research finds. 

Researchers from Maastricht University, Netherlands, investigated the influence of content and timing of an e-mail prompt on the returning visits to a computer-tailored lifestyle program. The lifestyle programs were aimed at multiple health behaviors: increasing physical activity, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, smoking cessation and decreasing alcohol consumption. These programs compared a user's current health behavior status to Dutch public health guidelines set for certain health behavior--such as working out at least 30 minutes per day five days a week, eating fruit and vegetables daily, drinking plenty of water and not smoking.

The program used gradual steps to guide people in changing their behaviors, plans to use and coping mechanisms to prevent relapse.

Of the 240 program users tested, 206 participants received e-mails prompting them to revisit the program. The study shows that 53 participants--25.7 percent--that got the e-mail reacted by clicking on the URL and re-visiting the program website, and 21 percent logged in.

The e-mails were more effective when sent two weeks after a user's first visit, as opposed to four and six weeks after the first visit. Additionally, participants receiving an e-mail with content other than just the link to the program were more likely to click on the program than URL than those who received a standard prompt.

In a study published last summer in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, researchers tried to measure the impact of e-mail and text messages on patient self-monitoring of activities and behaviors such as diet, exercise, and smoking. Study results showed that initiating and maintaining use of self-monitoring tools had been challenging.

A study in 2010 lead by the Center for Community-Based Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston also set out to determine whether e-mail prompts were useful at increasing self-monitoring in online programs, and found that prompting did, in fact, increase rates of return and self-monitoring.

To learn more:
- read the study in JMIR

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