A meta-analysis looks into the potential role of information and communication technology in the improvement of individual eating habits.
A meta-analysis published by Harris and colleagues in Health Technology Assessment in 2011 assessed the efficacy of e-Health systems in improving the dietary behaviors of teenagers and adults. 43 studies were identified in the scientific and medical literature. Unfortunately, the heterogeneity of the methods used in those studies prevented the authors from reaching conclusive results regarding efficacy or cost effectiveness. Nevertheless, the analysis offers various insights into potential solutions for harmonizing methodologies, so future studies can reach conclusive results on the matter.
The Study Rationale
Traditional communication campaigns aimed at changing dietary habits have shown their limitations. However, the use of information and communication technology applied to health, also known as e-Health, is beginning to offer a solid alternative. E-health systems may consist of websites, smartphone and tablet applications, programs, etc. But what do we know about their actual impact on dietary habits modification? Are they really effective and less costly than individual consultations with healthcare professionals?
The Health ICT are very promising in helping to change eating behaviors.
How effective are e-Health tools in modifying dietary habits?
This meta-analysis was based on randomized controlled trials studying this topic in teenagers and adults. 43 studies were identified. The analyses included various efficacy criteria, such as daily consumption of fruits, fats, fibers, daily rations, bodyweight loss, body mass index and money saved (direct costs).
Due to the heterogeneity of the methods used in the 43 randomized controlled trials included, no efficacy result could be brought forth.
Methods of randomized controlled trials in the current e-health are too different for a systematic review to conclude clearly on their effectiveness in improving eating disorders.
What it means for Patients
E-Health systems have not yet shown their prevalence over traditional solutions for weight control. This does not mean that they are not effective. But so far, study results are not reliable enough to prove their efficacy.
What it means for Healthcare Professionals
E-Health systems have not shown their superiority over face-to-face methods of weight control. This does not mean there are not effective. But so far, study results are not reliable enough to prove their efficacy.
What it means for Researchers
A meta-analysis could not conclusively answer the question posed because of the heterogeneity of the methods used in the randomized controlled trials included. The measures used by the 43 studies were too varied in terms of target populations, efficacy criteria, intervention content, theoretical basis, implementation and “dosage” of e-Health systems offered. E-Health clinical trials are only just beginning.
What it means for Policymakers
Asserting that e-Health systems are essential components of weight loss or dietary habit modification programs is premature. Serious studies on this topic are still lacking. Research should eventually differentiate between complementary e-Health systems (supporting traditional methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy) and self-monitoring ones.
Harris J, Felix L, Miners A, Murray E, Michie S, Ferguson E, Free C, Lock K, Landon J, Edwards P (2011). Adaptive e-learning to improve dietary behaviour: a systematic review and cost- effectiveness analysis. Health Technology Assessment, 15, 1-7.
To reference this Blog en Sante © article.
Ninot G (2014). Effectiveness of E-Health against junk food. Blog en Sante, A32.
© Copyright 2014 Grégory Ninot. All rights reserved.
Thanks to Syl Billere for the English Revision.