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Press Releases: National

May 19, 2009

Workplace E-Mail Intervention Program Helps People Sit Less and Eat Better, Kaiser Permanente Study Finds

Tailored E-mails Suggest Fruit Snacks and 10-Minute Walks

HIGHLIGHTS

  • This randomized controlled involved 787 employees who received weekly e-mails for 16 weeks suggesting small goals such as walking for 10 minutes at lunch, or eating fruit for snacks.
  • By the trial's end, participants were more physically active, eating more fruits and vegetables, and reducing their intake of saturated fats and transfats; the changes continued at least four months after the intervention ended.
  • This is one of the first studies to send messages directly to individuals via e-mail, rather than requiring individuals to actively access the Web.

OAKLAND, Calif. – A behavioral intervention program delivered by e-mail is an effective way to significantly improve diet and physical activity by helping people move more, sit less, and make healthier food choices, according to a Kaiser Permanente Division of Research study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study was a randomized controlled trial of the ALIVE (A Lifestyle Intervention Via E-mail) program conducted among 787 Kaiser Permanente Northern California employees at their worksites. Through the ALIVE program, developed by NutritionQuest (www.nutritionquest.com), weekly e-mails were sent to the 351 employees randomized to the intervention group; the 436 employees in the control group received only immediate e-mail feedback at the start of the intervention indicating whether or not their reported physical activity and diet met national guidelines. The messages to the participants in the intervention group suggested small, practical, individually tailored goals, such as eating fruit for a snack three times a week, walking for 10 minutes a day at lunch time, or walking to the store instead of driving.

At the end of the 16-week trial, the participants in the intervention group were more physically active, eating more fruits and vegetables, and reducing their intake of saturated fats and trans fats, compared to the control group. The biggest changes occurred among those in the intervention group, who did not meet minimum national standards for exercise and diet at the start of the trial. For example, employees who were not regularly active before receiving the intervention increased their participation in moderate intensity physical activities by almost an hour a week and decreased the amount of time they spent in sedentary activities, like watching TV and videos, by about two hours a week. These changes had a lasting effect four months after the intervention ended, the study found.

"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," said study lead investigator Barbara Sternfeld, Ph.D., senior research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and the study's lead investigator. "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."

Funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this study offers additional support for the potential of the Internet and e-mail to reach large segments of the population to inspire healthier lifestyle choices. It is one of the first studies to send messages directly into individuals' e-mail inboxes, rather than requiring individuals to actively access messages via the World Wide Web.

Given that the majority of Americans eat poorly and fail to exercise enough, effective e-mail programs could be a useful way to improve health, researchers say. According to the CDC, 55 percent don't perform the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Additionally, the daily diet for about three-quarters of the population consists of more than 30 percent fat, a percentage thatís generally considered too high.

Participants received weekly e-mails in their work or home accounts for four months that were tailored to their individual needs and life situation (for example, whether they had small children at home or busy schedules that posed barriers to exercise and diet improvement.) The e-mails linked to a personal home page with tips for achieving the small-step goals the respondent had selected, educational materials and tracking and simulation tools. Reminder messages were sent between each intervention message.

The study cohort was composed of employees who worked in the regional offices of Kaiser Permanente Northern California. The employees worked in administrative, financial, regulatory, technical and professional services and were not involved with direct patient care. They tend to use computers for much of their work. Participation had no bearing on job performance, employment status, or health benefits. The participants' information was kept confidential and did not appear on medical records or employee files. Before the program began, participants were evaluated on their eating and exercise habits by answering a short, online questionnaire, to which they received immediate feedback. They filled out the online questionnaire twice more, at the end of the program and four months later.

Another paper published in January in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that the ALIVE e-mail program reduced presenteeism among the trial participants and reduced bodily pain. Presenteeism is lost productivity that occurs when employees come to work but perform below par due to any kind of illness. The study did not look at whether employees used the e-mail program during their lunch hour or during their regular work hour.

"Using e-mail to get people active is a great use of existing technology that is cheap and readily available," said Bob Sallis, MD, a Kaiser Permanente family physician who is the regional exercise champion for Kaiser Permanente's Southern California region and immediate past president of the American College of Sports Medicine. "Anything we can do to increase activity level is going to improve health because we know that exercise is medicine. It's medicine you can take to live a longer and healthier life."

This research was a collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and NutritionQuest, and is part of an ongoing body of research by Kaiser Permanente that looks at using technology – mobile phones, wireless PDAs, the Internet, etc. – to help individuals manage their weight, get more physically active and make healthy food choices.

Kaiser Permanente also offers its 164,000 employees and 8.6 million members free online Healthy Lifestyle programs to spur healthy lifestyle choices to prevent disease and improve health through customized online tools for weight management at www.kp.org that links with Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect®, the world's largest civilian electronic health record.

Additional researchers on the Kaiser Permanente study include: Charles P. Quesenberry Jr., Ph.D., Gail Husson, MPH, and Melissa Nelson, MA, MPH, of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research; Gladys Block, Ph.D., Torin J. Block, BA, Clifford Block, Ph.D., and Jean C. Norris, DrPH.

About the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research (http://www.dor.kaiser.org/)
The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research conducts, publishes, and disseminates epidemiologic and health services research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and the society at large. It seeks to understand the determinants of illness and well-being and to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Currently, DOR's 400-plus staff is working on more than 250 epidemiological and health services research projects.

About Kaiser Permanente Research
Kaiser Permanente's eight research centers comprise one of the largest research programs in the United States and engage in work designed to improve the health of individuals everywhere. KP HealthConnect®, Kaiser Permanente's electronic health record, and other resources provide population data for research, and in turn, research findings are fed into KP HealthConnect® to arm physicians with research and clinical data. Kaiser Permanente's research program works with national and local health agencies and community organizations to share and widely disseminate its research data. Kaiser Permanente's research program is funded in part by Kaiser Permanente's Community Benefit division, which in 2007 directed an estimated $1 billion in health services, technology, and funding toward total community health.

About NutritionQuest
NutritionQuest (www.nutritionquest.com) of Berkeley, California, provides affordable, science-based wellness programs for employee and membership groups. The company is also one of the nation's leading providers of assessment measures for diet and physical activity and the sole source of the widely used Block Food Frequency questionnaires. NutritionQuest offers the ALIVE program commercially to employers. It also is developing a version focusing on older workers, whose health care costs are high and who need dietary and exercise support appropriate to them.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 8.6 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: www.kp.org/newscenter.