This blog offers a discussion of the possibilities of visual media and technology for health,education, communication and political action. Periodically, this blog is a collaborative effort with graduate students in public health at Hunter College, some of whom serve as guest bloggers and some of whom create their own blogs.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Online Diet & Fitness?


In our discussion in Wednesday evening's class about "Health Risks of the Internet," one of the issues that came up afterward was the sedentary nature of sitting, hour after hour, in front of a computer screen. This, obviously, has health risks in terms of obesity and all the co-morbidity issues related to it. In addition, there are repetitive strain injuries (RSI) that can result from overuse of the body at the computer.

But, this also got me thinking about the other side... are there ways that IT can be used to benefit diet and fitness? In terms of RSI, there's software you can install on your computer that reminds you to take breaks and claims to help prevent injury. I don't know of any research that's been published that puts this software to the test, but it would be interesting question to investigate.

Of course, there are also those online pharmacies that can be used to purchase diet pills although that's certainly an area that includes more risk than benefit in my opinion. Frankly, I don't want to trust the possibility of a heart attack or stroke from a diet pill based on the claims of Anna Nicole Smith (although, I really do wish her well in her lawsuit).

Then, there is the online diet and exercise support available at places such as eDiets.com and Weight Watchers Online. Again, I wonder if anyone has done any clinical trials examining the effectiveness of these sites. If I were designing such a study, I'd randomize a group that needed to lose weight, assign half to the face-to-face Weight Watcher meetings and half to Weight Watchers Online and see who lost more weight over time.

And, as I've been saying, wireless technology (wifi) opens up a whole new arena in terms of connectedness and the implications for health. This is no less true around diet and fitness. Now, you can download software for your PDA or PocketPC that allows you to track your daily diet and exercise, and it charts your progress for you. The added bonus here, of course, is that with a wireless-enabled hand-held device there's no sitting in front of a computer screen, you can take it with you! Still, there are no clinical trials on the effectiveness of these hand-held devices, but it's certainly worth researching given that the National Weight Control Registry reports that keeping a food diary was the most important factor (along with regular exercise) for those who have lost significant weight and kept it off for two years or longer.

5 comments:

HealthNurse said...

I still find the internet to be such a valuable tool for reasearch regarding many health topics. I do not the time to go to the library during the hours that it is open so I do all my research from my computer. The great thing is that you can even view the journal articles (both html and pdf. versions)from the New York City Public Library right at home -how great is that?! As far as diet is concerned, I've learned a great deal about diets regarding specific disease conditions on the Internet. The Internet is also such a valuable source of updated information regarding diet and exercise. I just remember to take breaks and stretch so as to help prevent repetitive stress injuries.

nurit said...

In this obesity inducing environment, constant immobility in front of a computer screen is an added factor. Mitigating the probelm is very important, and one way to do so is a new piece of software for children that was marketed recently. It playes dance tunes and comes with an attached dance steps mat which activate children to dance and move while playing the computer. I have seen it in action In Israel and was very impressed. I wonder if it has arrived at the U.S.

Nurit

K.Joseph said...

Nurit - One of the programs you are talking about is called "Dance Dance Revolution", which is a dance game available for gaming systems and the computer. They have studied it in some U.S schools and found it helpful as a form of pnysical activity. It has been added to some schools as gym

Jackie Levin said...

In response to the comments about sitting too long at a computer and the effects that this has on your body, I think that the technology that you referred to is a great place to start with combatting this problem. However, I know people that have this kind of software on their work computers, but unfortunately with the demands of the job, don't always have the opportunity to take the break when they are supposed to. A lot of people don't even take lunch breaks, so getting them to get up and move every hour is a stretch. No pun intended.

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