Newswise — A steady diet of e-mails can change people's outlook and behavior regarding healthier eating and increased physical activity, according to a new study of 2,598 Canadian workers.
Appearing in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, the 12-week study looked at the effectiveness of e-mails received at the workplace in promoting healthy exercise and eating regimes.
The research team, led by Ronald Plotnikoff, Ph.D., and Linda J. McCargar, Ph.D, of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, divided participants into an intervention group that received health-related e-mails and a control group that did not.
The intervention group alone showed an increase in physical activity levels and also had more confidence in being able to participate in physical activity at study's end. In addition, the intervention group members recognized more pros and fewer cons to physical activity and were more open to making dietary changes.
In fact, the intervention group actually reduced, although marginally, its mean body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height and weight, over the course of the study. By contrast, the mean BMI for the control group slightly increased.
"E-mail deliveries of health promotion messages can have small yet beneficial effects on health behaviors over a short time frame," the researchers say, extolling e-mail's unobtrusiveness, cost-effectiveness and practical appeal.
In the study, workers received weekly e-mail messages, each highlighting the worth of physical activity and good nutrition while also offering suggestions on how to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
Before and after the e-mail delivery period, both groups responded to e-mail questionnaires on their knowledge of, their attitudes toward and their behaviors regarding exercise and nutrition.
While the researchers concede the effects of the study's e-mails on the intervention group are small, they nevertheless conclude that "e-mail is a promising mode of delivery for promoting physical activity and nutrition in the workplace."
They add that more aesthetically pleasing e-mails, used more frequently, could be more persuasive than the plain text messages used in the study.
The study "must be viewed with caution since the changes reported are based on self-report and the effect sizes are generally small," according to Jennifer B. McClure, Ph.D, a scientific investigator with the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle. Nevertheless, she says, "The findings are encouraging and they add to other recent data which suggest that using e-mail to deliver well-designed communications could be an effective way to encourage and promote health behaviors."
The study, which had the cooperation of three government agencies and two private sector organizations, was prompted by the researchers' concern over the growing prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Healthy exercise together with a balanced diet is viewed as key to the prevention of type 2 diabetes.
Plotnikoff R, et al. Efficacy of an e-mail intervention for the promotion of physical activity and nutrition behavior in the workplace context. American Journal of Health Promotion 19(6), 2005.