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.