Scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of mobile health technologies for reducing risk factors for heart disease and stroke is limited and the benefits of mHealth apps and wearables require further study.

That’s the conclusion of an American Heart Association scientific statement published in the journal Circulation. While smartphone apps and wearable sensors have the potential to help consumers make healthier lifestyle choices by managing weight, increasing physical activity, and helping to quit smoking, based on a review of the “small body of published, peer-reviewed studies about the effectiveness of mobile health technologies” the association is taking a wait-and-see approach to the technology.

The authors of the scientific statement reviewed mHealth randomized clinical trials and meta-analyses from the past decade finding that most of these studies were short-term and limited in size. For instance, when it comes to managing weight, the heart association found that “people who include mobile technology in a comprehensive lifestyle program for weight loss were more successful in short-term weight loss compared to 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.” 

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In addition, although the majority of studies show that using an online program boosted physical activity more than not using one, the heart association concludes that “there hasn’t been enough research to show whether wearable physical activity monitoring devices actually help you move more.” And, while mobile phone apps using text messaging can almost double a person’s chances of quitting smoking, the association states that “about 90 percent of people using these apps fail to quit smoking after six months.”

It’s no wonder that physicians continue to be reluctant to recommend mHealth apps to their patients. Given the lack of scientific evidence regarding the impact of mobile technologies on health outcomes, doctors remain unconvinced that consumers can change health behavior or improve disease management though their use of apps.

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Despite the fact that one in five American adults use some technology to track health data and the most popular health apps are related to exercise, counting steps, or heart rate, the heart association found that there is little or no U.S.-based mHealth technology research on diabetes, blood pressure or cholesterol management—major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

“Nevertheless, don’t dismiss the possibility that these devices and apps can help you be heart healthy,” said Lora E. Burke, Ph.D., lead author of the scientific statement and professor of nursing and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh. “The fact that mobile health technologies haven’t been fully studied doesn’t mean that they are not effective. Self-monitoring is one of the core strategies for changing cardiovascular health behaviors. If a mobile health technology, such as a smartphone app for self-monitoring diet, weight or physical activity, is helping you improve your behavior, then stick with it.”

This article courtesy of Information Management's sister brand, HealthData Management

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