Can Smartphones Help Us to Live Healthier?

Can Smartphones Help Us to Live Healthier?

The smartphones in our pockets help ensure we’ll never get lost, that we can always view cat videos and that photos of Facebook friends’ babies are never far away. And they could help ensure we’re healthier — for at least a few months.

That’s the finding of a new systematic review of 224 interventional trials and observational studies published between 1990 and 2013 on the effects of the internet, cell phones, personal sensors, social media and/or computer software tools on healthier lifestyle behaviors, such as improved diet, more activity, weight loss and smoking cessation.

Most studies lasted six months or fewer, and including affluent populations in developed countries, limiting the data on electronic intervention’s long-term effects. But the information we do have is promising.

For example, internet interventions can help improve diet and exercise rates, reduce body fat, tobacco use and healthier behaviors. The use of apps or other mobile notifications in particular were effective for boosting exercise adherence and promoting weight loss, researchers found.


A team from the University of Washington published these results in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“Both Internet-based and mobile-based programs can help people become more physically active, eat better, and achieve modest weight loss over 3 to 12 months,” said lead author Ashkan Afshin, M.D., M.P.H., acting assistant professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, according to

In terms of what works best, Dr. Afshin noted: “Programs that have components such as goal-setting and self-monitoring, and use multiple modes of communication with tailored messages tended to be more effective.”

Because of the limitations mentioned above, Dr. Afhsin says additional study on how digital devices can help foster healthy behavior change is needed.

“Our study highlights several important gaps in current evidence on Internet- and mobile-based interventions,” he said. “We need to evaluate their long-term value, effectiveness in different populations (such as the elderly and people from developing countries), and how different strategies may increase adherence to the programs.”

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