Dieting

Can Facebook and Texting Help Weight Loss?

| by National Institutes of Health

To engage young adults in protecting their future heart health, the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has funded seven clinical trials that combine behavioral weight management programs with technologies such as text messaging, online social networking, and Bluetooth-enabled scales. Several of the trials have begun seeking participants.

"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 evidence to help us guide young adults toward approaches that work and allow them to choose the options that work best for them."

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The Early Adult Reduction of Weight through Lifestyle Intervention (EARLY) Trials seek to prevent weight gain and promote weight loss among young adults, defined as ages 18-35, through healthy eating and physical activity. The trials are receiving a total of $36 million over five years and are partially supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

"We expect the use of technology will help us reach young adults at risk of weight gain and inspire them to stay at a healthy weight," said trials steering committee chair Leslie Lytle, Ph.D., who is leading a trial that features Web-based social networking among community college students.

Previous NHLBI research has shown that people aged 18-49 gain an average of 1-2 pounds each year, with the largest weight gain of 3 pounds per year occurring in 20-29-year-olds. Such weight gain can lead to high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Few studies have examined how to effectively engage this high-risk age group in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

The following individual trials will help reach young adults aged 18-35:

The trial teams have completed initial research on the best ways to recruit young adults and keep them active in the proposed trials. Some have now begun to recruit participants for the two-year, randomized, controlled clinical trials. All seven trials are expected to start enrollment by spring 2011. Although each 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.

People interested in participating in one of the trials are encouraged to contact each site directly. More information can be found at www.clinicaltrials.gov.

To schedule an interview with an NHLBI spokesperson, contact the NHLBI Communications Office at 301-496-4236 or [email protected].

Part of the National Institutes of Health, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) plans, conducts, and supports research related to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases, and sleep disorders. The Institute also administers national health education campaigns on women and heart disease, healthy weight for children, and other topics. NHLBI press releases, information on NHLBI’s role in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and other materials are available online at www.nhlbi.nih.gov.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the Institute's Web site at http://www.nichd.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.