“Digital Health Coaching” Helps Reduce Obesity, Improve Heart Health

Smartphones these days, it seems, can help you do pretty much everything—from hailing a ride to transferring money to tracking and managing health data. To that last point, a new retrospective study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) has shed light on the potential that mHealth has to promote patient weight loss and improved heart health. As mHealth Intelligence first reported, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that, when combined with digital coaching, using the Vida Health app helped patients to both lose weight and improve their blood pressure. In other words, “Mobile phone app-based health coaching interventions can be an acceptable and effective means to promote weight loss and improve blood pressure management in overweight or obese individuals,” the researchers explain. “As mobile phones continue to penetrate the consumer market, digital health coaching may serve as a promising model to increase access to evidence-based behavioral coaching for obesity and related cardiovascular conditions.”

Obesity in American adults, the researchers note, continues to be a cause for concern from a public health perspective. Indeed, approximately 71 percent of adults are overweight, and more than a third are classified as obese, meaning they face significantly higher risks of chronic health conditions like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. To explore how digital interventions might help improve these metrics, the researchers examined data from a registry of patients, all of whom were either overweight or obese, who participated in a four-month study from Vida Health and a health insurance provider. Participants in the intervention group both downloaded and used the Vida Health app and received “intensive health coaching via live video, phone, and text message through the app.” Coaches, the researchers explained, helped participants set health-related goals and held them accountable for them. The data gathered throughout included participants’ body weight and blood pressure.

The results? Relative to a control group, those who both received digital coaching and utilized the Vida Health app showed steps in the right direction. Specifically, they lost an average 3.32 percent of their body weight, with 28.6 percent of the group even losing five percent or more of it. While data on blood pressure was not available for all participants, nearly half of those who provided it experienced an improvement in blood pressure following coaching and use of the app. Notably, participants who rated the app also gave it very high marks. While satisfied with what they found, the researchers encourage future study of interventions like this one. These results come shortly after the publication of a study that highlighted the role that mHealth can play in tackling childhood obesity. As we noted last week, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, working in collaboration with Harvard Vanguard, developed an intervention that had positive results for children and families alike by using technology to connect people to community resources—a crucial component of weight-loss programs, as the Vida Health results also demonstrate.

Click here to read the article on the digital health coaching study from mHealth Intelligence.

Click here to read the results of the digital health coaching study from JMIR. 

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