Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Mobile health can help, says American Heart Association paper

Steve Rogerson
August 25, 2015
Smartphone applications and wearable sensors have the potential to help people make healthier lifestyle choices, but scientific evidence of mobile health technologies’ effectiveness for reducing risk factors for heart disease and stroke is limited, according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association, published in its journal Circulation.
The statement reviewed the small body of published, peer-reviewed studies about the effectiveness of mobile health technologies for managing weight, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking and controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
“The fact that mobile health technologies haven’t been fully studied doesn’t mean that they are not effective,” said Lora Burke, lead author of the statement and professor of nursing and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh. “Self-monitoring is one of the core strategies for changing cardiovascular health behaviours. If a mobile health technology, such as a smartphone app for self-monitoring diet, weight or physical activity, is helping you improve your behaviour, then stick with it.”
Currently, one in five American adults use some technology to track health data and the most popular health apps downloaded are related to exercise, counting steps or heart rate.
The mhealth technologies examined in the statement correspond to the goals in the association’s Life’s Simple Seven guide to improve heart health – eating better, being more active, managing weight, avoiding tobacco smoke, reducing blood sugar, and controlling cholesterol and blood pressure.
Here are some of the statement’s findings:

  • Managing weight – People who include mobile technology in a comprehensive lifestyle programme for weight loss were more successful in short-term weight loss compared with those who tried to lose weight on their own, but there isn’t any published data on whether the participants maintained their weight loss beyond 12 months. When considering an mhealth weight loss programme, healthcare practitioners should look for one that has many of the same elements as successful person-to-person individualised programmes administered by healthcare professionals, which emphasise a calorie-controlled diet, physical activity, self-monitoring or recording food intake and physical activity in a paper or digital diary, personalised feedback and social support.
  • Physical activity – While most studies show that using an online programme boosted physical activity more than not using one, there hasn’t been enough research to show whether wearable physical activity monitoring devices actually help you move more.
  • Smoking cessation – Mobile phone apps using text messaging to help quit smoking can almost double your chances of quitting, but about 90 per cent of people using these apps fail to quit smoking after six months. Mobile health apps used in combination with a traditional quit-smoking programme may help smokers kick the habit.
Currently, there is little or no US-based mhealth technology research on diabetes, blood pressure or cholesterol management.
The statement authors reviewed mhealth randomised clinical trials and meta-analyses from the last decade. Most mhealth technology studies were short-term and limited in size.
“Nevertheless, don’t dismiss the possibility that these devices and apps can help you be heart healthy,” Burke said.
To choose a mobile health technology that works, ask a healthcare provider, fitness instructor, registered dietitian or similar expert to help find an effective programme, she added.
The statement also encouraged researchers to embrace the challenge of producing the needed evidence regarding how effective these new technologies are and how they can be best adopted into clinical practice to promote better patient health.
Co-authors are Jun Ma, Kristen Azar, Gary Bennett, Eric Peterson, Yaguang Zheng, William Riley, Janna Stephens, Svati Shah, Brian Suffoletto, Tanya Turan, Bonnie Spring, Julia Steinberger and Charlene Quinn.