Smartphone App Reduces Cardiovascular Risk Factors

NOVEMBER 09, 2015
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick
Ideally, our diets would consist mostly of fresh greens and fiber-filled fruits. But far too often we are opting out of healthy choices and falling into harmful habits that can increase cardiovascular risks.
Family history, ethnicity, and age are among the cardiovascular risk factors that can’t be changed. However, there are multiple areas in which improvement can lead to reduced likelihood of illness – so shouldn’t we make steps towards doing just that?
Bonnie Spring, PhD, from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, spoke about an Android application that can promote better eating and exercise habits which can lead to improved heart health. The details were explained during a presentation at the American Heart Association 2015 Scientific Sessions (AHA 2015) in Orlando, Florida.
“The problem I’m studying is diet and activity with cardiovascular risk factors,” Spring began the presentation at AHA 2015. “We began working on this problem a few years back in a study called Make Better Choices.”
The team looked at four risk factors of heart disease: low fruit and vegetable consumption, high saturated fat intake, low-moderate vigorous physical activity, and more than 120 minutes of watching TV per day. The researchers thought that it would be too much to expect patients to change all four habits at once, and Spring said that they were even skeptical that the participants would be able to make real steps towards a healthier lifestyle.
The outcomes showed that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and reducing the amount of TV time were the most manageable. The least manageable was getting people to cut saturated fat out of their diets. But it turns out that over time, the increase of good foods and less time in front of the screen began to cause a reduction in bad fat intake. However, physical activity was the hardest to instill long-term.
Notably, the patients were paid $175 for reaching goals in all four areas. The researchers thought that when they stopped paying them, they would fall off the wagon. However, the participants kept at least half of the healthy habits sustained for six months following the study.
A follow-up study, Make Better Choices 2, aimed to look at the same four risk factors without the high financial incentive. Using 212 participants, the analysis aimed to improve physical activity without downplaying the other three contributors. For the first 12 weeks, the participants uploaded data on the MBC2 app and had phone calls with a coach to discuss plans and goals. Wireless accelerometer measured physical activity.
This time around, the subjects were given $5 a week for up to three months when goals in each of the four categories were met – which according to Spring, no one ever reached. Even still, there were positive outcomes observed. TV time dropped to about two hours a day and fruit and vegetable consumption averaged at 5.9 a day, and the habits were both sustained for up to nine months following the study. In addition, saturated fat intake dropped 3.7% six months after the trial but slightly climbed back up by nine months. Physical activity also peaked at six months and then began to fall off three months later. Therefore, even with no incentive, there were large improvements in diet and exercise.
“Both simultaneous and sequential interventions worked comparably well,” Spring concluded. This is another step towards reducing controllable risk factors associated with heart problems.

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