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      Internet-Based Physical Activity Interventions: A Systematic Review of the Literature

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          Nowadays people are extensively encouraged to become more physically active. The Internet has been brought forward as an effective tool to change physical activity behavior. However, little is known about the evidence regarding such Internet-based interventions.


          The aim of the study was to systematically assess the methodological quality and the effectiveness of interventions designed to promote physical activity by means of the Internet as evaluated by randomized controlled trials.


          A literature search was conducted up to July 2006 using the databases PubMed, Web of Science, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and Cochrane Library. Only randomized controlled trials describing the effectiveness of an Internet-based intervention, with the promotion of physical activity among adults being one of its major goals, were included. Data extracted included source and year of publication, country of origin, targeted health behaviors, participants’ characteristics, characteristics of the intervention, and effectiveness data. In addition, the methodological quality was assessed.


          The literature search resulted in 10 eligible studies of which five met at least nine out of 13 general methodological criteria. The majority of the interventions were tailored to the characteristics of the participants and used interactive self-monitoring and feedback tools. Six studies used one or more theoretical models to compose the contents of the interventions. One study used an objective measure to assess the amount of physical activity (activity monitor), and six studies used multiple subjective measures of physical activity. Furthermore, half of the studies employed measures of physical fitness other than physical activity. In three studies, an Internet-based physical activity intervention was compared with a waiting list group. Of these three studies, two reported a significantly greater improvement in physical activity levels in the Internet-based intervention than in the control group. Seven studies compared two types of Internet-based physical activity interventions in which the main difference was either the intensity of contact between the participants and supervisors (4 studies) or the type of treatment procedures applied (3 studies). In one of these studies, a significant effect in favor of an intervention with more supervisor contact was seen.


          There is indicative evidence that Internet-based physical activity interventions are more effective than a waiting list strategy. The added value of specific components of Internet-based physical activity interventions such as increased supervisor contact, tailored information, or theoretical fidelity remains to be established. Methodological quality as well as the type of physical activity outcome measure varied, stressing the need for standardization of these measures.

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          Most cited references 46

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          Empirical evidence of bias. Dimensions of methodological quality associated with estimates of treatment effects in controlled trials.

          To determine if inadequate approaches to randomized controlled trial design and execution are associated with evidence of bias in estimating treatment effects. An observational study in which we assessed the methodological quality of 250 controlled trials from 33 meta-analyses and then analyzed, using multiple logistic regression models, the associations between those assessments and estimated treatment effects. Meta-analyses from the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Database. The associations between estimates of treatment effects and inadequate allocation concealment, exclusions after randomization, and lack of double-blinding. Compared with trials in which authors reported adequately concealed treatment allocation, trials in which concealment was either inadequate or unclear (did not report or incompletely reported a concealment approach) yielded larger estimates of treatment effects (P < .001). Odds ratios were exaggerated by 41% for inadequately concealed trials and by 30% for unclearly concealed trials (adjusted for other aspects of quality). Trials in which participants had been excluded after randomization did not yield larger estimates of effects, but that lack of association may be due to incomplete reporting. Trials that were not double-blind also yielded larger estimates of effects (P = .01), with odds ratios being exaggerated by 17%. This study provides empirical evidence that inadequate methodological approaches in controlled trials, particularly those representing poor allocation concealment, are associated with bias. Readers of trial reports should be wary of these pitfalls, and investigators must improve their design, execution, and reporting of trials.
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            The Effectiveness of Web-Based vs. Non-Web-Based Interventions: A Meta-Analysis of Behavioral Change Outcomes

            Background A primary focus of self-care interventions for chronic illness is the encouragement of an individual's behavior change necessitating knowledge sharing, education, and understanding of the condition. The use of the Internet to deliver Web-based interventions to patients is increasing rapidly. In a 7-year period (1996 to 2003), there was a 12-fold increase in MEDLINE citations for “Web-based therapies.” The use and effectiveness of Web-based interventions to encourage an individual's change in behavior compared to non-Web-based interventions have not been substantially reviewed. Objective This meta-analysis was undertaken to provide further information on patient/client knowledge and behavioral change outcomes after Web-based interventions as compared to outcomes seen after implementation of non-Web-based interventions. Methods The MEDLINE, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, ERIC, and PSYCHInfo databases were searched for relevant citations between the years 1996 and 2003. Identified articles were retrieved, reviewed, and assessed according to established criteria for quality and inclusion/exclusion in the study. Twenty-two articles were deemed appropriate for the study and selected for analysis. Effect sizes were calculated to ascertain a standardized difference between the intervention (Web-based) and control (non-Web-based) groups by applying the appropriate meta-analytic technique. Homogeneity analysis, forest plot review, and sensitivity analyses were performed to ascertain the comparability of the studies. Results Aggregation of participant data revealed a total of 11,754 participants (5,841 women and 5,729 men). The average age of participants was 41.5 years. In those studies reporting attrition rates, the average drop out rate was 21% for both the intervention and control groups. For the five Web-based studies that reported usage statistics, time spent/session/person ranged from 4.5 to 45 minutes. Session logons/person/week ranged from 2.6 logons/person over 32 weeks to 1008 logons/person over 36 weeks. The intervention designs included one-time Web-participant health outcome studies compared to non-Web participant health outcomes, self-paced interventions, and longitudinal, repeated measure intervention studies. Longitudinal studies ranged from 3 weeks to 78 weeks in duration. The effect sizes for the studied outcomes ranged from -.01 to .75. Broad variability in the focus of the studied outcomes precluded the calculation of an overall effect size for the compared outcome variables in the Web-based compared to the non-Web-based interventions. Homogeneity statistic estimation also revealed widely differing study parameters (Qw16 = 49.993, P ≤ .001). There was no significant difference between study length and effect size. Sixteen of the 17 studied effect outcomes revealed improved knowledge and/or improved behavioral outcomes for participants using the Web-based interventions. Five studies provided group information to compare the validity of Web-based vs. non-Web-based instruments using one-time cross-sectional studies. These studies revealed effect sizes ranging from -.25 to +.29. Homogeneity statistic estimation again revealed widely differing study parameters (Qw4 = 18.238, P ≤ .001). Conclusions The effect size comparisons in the use of Web-based interventions compared to non-Web-based interventions showed an improvement in outcomes for individuals using Web-based interventions to achieve the specified knowledge and/or behavior change for the studied outcome variables. These outcomes included increased exercise time, increased knowledge of nutritional status, increased knowledge of asthma treatment, increased participation in healthcare, slower health decline, improved body shape perception, and 18-month weight loss maintenance.
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              Effects of Internet behavioral counseling on weight loss in adults at risk for type 2 diabetes: a randomized trial.

              Weight loss programs on the Internet appear promising for short-term weight loss but have not been studied for weight loss in individuals at risk of type 2 diabetes; thus, the longer-term efficacy is unknown. To compare the effects of an Internet weight loss program alone vs with the addition of behavioral counseling via e-mail provided for 1 year to individuals at risk of type 2 diabetes. A single-center randomized controlled trial conducted from September 2001 to September 2002 in Providence, RI, of 92 overweight adults whose mean (SD) age was 48.5 (9.4) years and body mass index, 33.1 (3.8). Participants were randomized to a basic Internet (n = 46) or to an Internet plus behavioral e-counseling program (n = 46). Both groups received 1 face-to-face counseling session and the same core Internet programs and were instructed to submit weekly weights. Participants in e-counseling submitted calorie and exercise information and received weekly e-mail behavioral counseling and feedback from a counselor. Measured weight and waist circumference at 0 and 12 months. Intent-to-treat analyses showed the behavioral e-counseling group lost more mean (SD) weight at 12 months than the basic Internet group (-4.4 [6.2] vs -2.0 [5.7] kg; P =.04), and had greater decreases in percentage of initial body weight (4.8% vs 2.2%; P =.03), body mass index (-1.6 [2.2] vs -0.8 [2.1]; P =.03), and waist circumference (-7.2 [7.5] vs -4.4 [5.7] cm; P =.05). Adding e-mail counseling to a basic Internet weight loss intervention program significantly improved weight loss in adults at risk of diabetes.

                Author and article information

                J Med Internet Res
                Journal of Medical Internet Research
                Gunther Eysenbach (Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, Toronto, Canada )
                Jul-Sep 2007
                30 September 2007
                : 9
                : 3
                2Walaeus LibraryLUMCLeidenThe Netherlands
                1Department of Rheumatology Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) LeidenThe Netherlands
                © Marleen H van den Berg, Johannes W Schoones, Theodora PM Vliet Vlieland. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org, 30.09.2007). Except where otherwise noted, articles published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, including full bibliographic details and the URL (see "please cite as" above), and this statement is included.


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