A Kaiser Permanente Division of Research study found that email intervention programs can be beneficial in losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Researchers used NutritionQuest’s Alive! (A Lifestyle Intervention Via E-mail) diet and physical activity intervention program to measure the efficacy of email-based employee wellness programs. Alive! is a goal-based program. Users enter the goals they wish to achieve (e.g., eat vegetables with two meals a day, walk 10 minutes during lunch) and the program tracks their progress. Weekly emails tailored to the individual’s needs suggest manageable measures they can take to meet their needs.

"A tailored e-mail program includes all the things that behavioral scientists have said for years about changing behavior: small goals tailored for the individual, reinforcement, and tracking but delivered in a mass, cost-effective way," said Barbara Sternfeld, Ph.D., senior research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

The key to programs like Alive! is that intervention is sent to the users, as opposed to users having to actively seek it on the Web.

A randomly controlled trial of Kaiser Permanente employees found that employees who received Alive! messages were more physically fit at the 16-week study’s end, eating more fruits and vegetables and consuming fewer saturated and trans fats than the control group, who did not receive weekly messages.

In addition, participants who were not active before the program started increased moderate physical activity by over an hour a week and decreased sedentary activities by more than two hours per week.

"The takeaway message here for people who want to improve their diet and physical activity, and for employers who want a healthier workforce, is that e-mail intervention programs are a very cost-effective way to get healthy," Sternfeld said.

By Mark Alvarez