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Research: mHealth Tools Have not Been Fully Studied

August 18, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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While smartphone apps and wearable sensors have the potential to help people make healthier lifestyle choices, evidence of these mHealth tools being effective for or reducing risk factors for heart disease and stroke is limited, according to new research.

These findings are according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association, published in the association’s journal Circulation. The new statement reviewed the small body of published, peer-reviewed studies about the effectiveness of mobile health technologies for managing weight, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking and controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

“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,” said Lora E. Burke, Ph.D., lead author of the statement and professor of nursing and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Currently, one in five American adults use some technology to track health data and the most popular health apps downloaded are related to exercise, counting steps, or heart rate. The mHealth technologies examined in the statement correspond to the goals in the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, which are seven simple ways to improve your heart health—eating better, being more active, managing your weight, avoiding tobacco smoke, reducing blood sugar, and controlling both cholesterol and blood pressure.

Currently, there is little or no U.S.-based mHealth technology research on diabetes, blood pressure or cholesterol management. Statement authors reviewed mHealth randomized clinical trials and meta-analyses from the last decade. Most mHealth technology studies were short-term and limited in size. “Nevertheless, don’t dismiss the possibility that these devices and apps can help you be heart healthy,” Burke said.

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