A recently published study from Finland, conducted in 2008, shows Web- and mobile-based health interventions for employees can be effective, but face challenges when it comes to employees actually using the technology over time.
In a study published last month in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, a team from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland looked at 114 employees who were offered the use of connected devices, mobile apps, and web portals to manage their health during a one-year study. They found that, on the one hand, sustained users of the technology (defined as those who used it at least once every four weeks), lost an average of 2.6 pounds versus a 1.3 pound gain for non-sustained users. In addition the sustained users were more likely to decrease their body fat percentage and waist circumference.
On the other hand, the study found that less than 30 percent of users stuck with the web or mobile technology throughout the whole 48 weeks in which participants were observed.
The technology toolkit offered to participants included a Seca Sensa 804 weight scale, which is digital, but does not connect t0 a smartphone or computer, and an Omron pedometer. It also included a study-supplied phone with three health apps: a Wellness Diary app from Nokia, an exercise training app called Mobile Coach, and a relaxation app called SelfRelax. Finally, the online portal options, developed specially for the study, included a web version of the wellness diary and a more in-depth food and exercise diary program called Hyperfit. Subjects could also borrow a heart-rate monitoring belt for three days at a time.
Participants were more likely to use the scale and pedometer than the apps or portal; at the end of the study, 72 percent of respondents said they were still using the scale and 39 percent said they were still using the pedometer. However, since neither device was connected, researchers had to rely on self-reported data.
As for mobile and web usage, the study had an active intervention period of eight weeks, during which subjects attended weekly information sessions and were reminded about using the technology. During this period, 50 percent of participants remained engaged with at least one app or website. After the eight weeks ended, that number dropped to 29 percent.
The researchers concluded that simplicity and ease of use accounted for the difference in uptake between the connected devices and the web and mobile apps, as well as the possibility of a positive bias in self-reported data.