U of M study to use technology to help young adults achieve and maintain healthy weights
- Few studies have examined how to effectively engage young adults ages 18-35 in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
- A new U of M clinical trial aims to combat the growing obesity trend in a new way: by capitalizing on technology and social media’s impact and influence on young adults.
- The trial is one of seven NIH-funded clinical trials nationwide to test the role of innovative, technology-based weight management approaches targeted to at-risk young adults.
- "We expect these trials, based on new technology directly used by the population we’re trying to reach, will help us reach young adults at risk for weight gain in new ways, inspiring them to not just reach a healthy weight, but to stay there. We’re searching for new ways to positively impact a vulnerable population.” - University of Minnesota School of Public Health Professor Leslie Lytle, Ph.D.
MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (November 29, 2010) – Statistics show young adults are at high risk of becoming overweight or obese, dramatically increasing their risk of obesity and health complications such as heart disease later in life. Yet few studies have examined how to effectively engage this age group – defined as ages 18-35 – in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
A new University of Minnesota clinical trial aims to combat the growing obesity trend in a new way: by capitalizing on technology and social media’s impact and influence on young adults.
In the new CHOICES trial (Choosing Healthy Options in College Environments and Settings), the University of Minnesota will test a for-credit course model that incorporates web-based social networking as a way to prevent unhealthy weight gain in 440 student participants attending two-year community colleges.
“The question we’re hoping to answer is: how can we engage two-year college students over the course of 24 months and help them avoid unhealthy weight gain,” said School of Public Health Professor Leslie Lytle, Ph.D. “We’ve designed a for-credit class that provides them tools to improve their sleeping habits, help them eat a healthier diet, get more physical activity and manage stress.”
The CHOICES trial will be offered at three Minnesota colleges: Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Inver Hills Community College and St. Paul College. Half the 440 students will be randomized into a control group offering fewer interventions and no social networking. Trial participants will benefit from activities such as cooking demonstrations, yoga and stress management exercises.
The trial is one of seven clinical trials nationwide to test the role of innovative, technology-based weight management approaches targeted to at-risk young adults. Known as the Early Adult Reduction of Weight through Lifestyle Intervention (EARLY) Trials, all seek to prevent weight gain and promote weight loss among young adults with the help of various technologies.
All will be supported by $36 million in funding over five years by the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), with support from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
"We expect these trials, based on new technology directly used by the population we’re trying to reach, will help us reach young adults at risk for weight gain in new ways, inspiring them to not just reach a healthy weight, but to stay there,” said Lytle who is the chair of the Steering Committee for the EARLY trials. “We’re searching for new ways to positively impact a vulnerable population.”
The NHLBI's Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study has shown that people aged 18-49 gain an average of 1-2 pounds each year, with the largest weight gain – 3 pounds per year – occurring in 20- to 29-year-olds. Such weight gain can lead to high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, diabetes, and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Each EARLY trial will attempt to engage young adults in controlling their weight through behavioral programs that use various technologies – such as cell phone applications, text messaging, social networking and Bluetooth-enabled weight monitors – to encourage healthy eating and physical activity.
The trial teams have completed initial research on the best ways to help and recruit young adult participants and keep them active in the proposed trials. They are now beginning to recruit participants for two-year, randomized, controlled clinical trials. The last trial is expected to start enrollment in spring 2011.
"These studies have the potential to teach us about successfully engaging young adults in achieving a healthy weight at a critical time in their lives," said Susan B. Shurin, M.D., acting director of the NHLBI. "Learning effective strategies for weight management further empowers young adults to protect their future heart health. These studies are designed to provide the evidence that will enable us to guide young adults toward approaches that work and permit them to choose the options that work best for them."
The seven EARLY clinical trials are:
- Treating Adults at Risk for Weight Gain with Interactive Technology (TARGIT) at the University of Tennessee will use the iPod Touch, webinars, and podcasts to deliver a behavioral weight loss intervention to young adults who are trying to quit smoking.
- Innovative Approaches for Diet, Exercise, and Activity (IDEA) at the University of Pittsburgh will test how a weight loss intervention enhanced with text message prompts and wearable exercise monitors improves weight loss as compared to a standard intervention.
- eMoms Roc: Electronically Mediated Weight Interventions for Pregnant and Postpartum Women at Cornell University/University of Rochester will test Internet-based e-intervention programs to help pregnant women prevent excessive weight gain during pregnancy and return to their pre-pregnancy weight after giving birth.
- Choosing Healthy Options in College Environments and Settings (CHOICES) at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis will test a for-credit course that includes Web-based social networking to prevent unhealthy weight gain.
- Cell Phone Intervention for You (CITY) at Duke University will test two weight loss approaches against a control in a total of 300 participants: one where participants use cell phones for self-monitoring and social networking, and one where they use cell phones for self-monitoring only.
- Social/Mobile Approaches to Reducing Weight (SMART) at the University of California, San Diego will test a behavioral intervention that uses mobile phones, Facebook, and the Web.
- Study of Novel Approaches for Prevention (SNAP) at Brown University/Miriam Hospital will test a Web-based weight management intervention to help participants self-regulate their weight by either making large changes in their eating and exercise habits to lose weight, or making small changes to prevent or reverse weight gain.
Although each EARLY trial is slightly different and will be conducted at a single institution, the teams are using a set of common measures and questionnaires so they can better compare their findings when the trials are complete.
"Comparing findings and pooling data from all seven studies will maximize what the research community learns about developing strategies to address weight control among young adults," said Catherine Loria, Ph.D., a nutritional epidemiologist in the NHLBI's Division of Cardiovascular Sciences.
More information about the trials can be found at www.clinicaltrials.gov.