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Pitt researcher receives NIH funding for technology-enhanced weight-loss program

PITTSBURGHObesity! It's a national epidemic and on the rise in young adults. Using technology to combat this problem, the University of Pittsburgh Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center will offer the IDEA (Innovative Approaches to Diet, Exercise, and Activity) study, one of seven clinical trials to be funded by the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

NIH's Early Adult Reduction of Weight through Lifestyle Intervention (EARLY) Trials seek to prevent weight gain and promote weight loss among young adultsages 18 to 35through healthy eating and physical activity. Few studies have examined how to effectively engage this high-risk age group in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. A total of $36 million will fund the seven trials over a five-year period.

Conducted at universities throughout the United States, the trials will incorporate such technologies as text messaging, online social networking, and Bluetooth-enabled scales as part of their weight-loss efforts.

"We're really excited about using technology to enhance our weight-loss and physical-activity studies," said John Jakicic, professor and chair of the Department of Health and Physical Activity in Pitt's School of Education and director of the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center at Pitt. "We think these technology enhancements will significantly improve this age group's overall health."

Pitt's IDEA program will test whether an enhanced weight-loss intervention with the use of text messaging reminders and wearable exercise monitors improves weight loss in young adults compared to a standard behavioral weight-loss intervention. Researchers will examine these interventions on changes in body composition, body-fat distribution, fitness, physical activity, dietary intake, and behavioral/psychosocial measures that may be predictive of behavior change.

Pitt's IDEA study will involve 480 overweight and obese young adults who will be assessed at the beginning of the study and at six, 12, 18, and 24 months. The 24-month behavioral weight-loss program includes a reduction in calorie intake and moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise, progressively increasing from 100 to 250 minutes per week.

Additionally, subjects will be randomized to receive the standard intervention or the enhanced intervention that includes state-of-the-art technologies. These technologies will be implemented from months seven to 24 and include daily text messaging prompts to reinforce adherence to the behavioral intervention and a monitor that is worn to provide real-time feedback on energy expenditure and achievement of daily physical activity goals.

Brief descriptions of the six other EARLY Trials and their study locations follow.

  • Treating Adults at Risk for Weight Gain With Interactive Technology (TARGIT), University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, will use the iPod Touch, webinars, and podcasts to deliver a behavioral weight-loss intervention to young adults who are trying to quit smoking.

  • eMoms Roc: Electronically Mediated Weight Interventions for Pregnant and Postpartum Women, Cornell University/University of Rochester, will test Internet-based programs to promote the health of pregnant and postpartum women. The study is cofunded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

  • Choosing Healthy Options in College Environments and Settings (CHOICES), University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, will test a for-credit course that includes Web-based social networking to prevent unhealthy weight gain in students attending a two-year community college.

  • Cell Phone Intervention for You (CITY), Duke University, will test two weight-loss approachesone using cell phones for self-monitoring and social networking and another using cell phones for self-monitoring only and also receiving personal coaching.

  • Social/Mobile Approaches to Reducing Weight (SMART), University of California, San Diego, will test behavioral intervention that uses mobile phones, Facebook, and the Web to help student participants lose weight.

  • Study of Novel Approaches for Prevention (SNAP), Brown University/Miriam Hospital, will test a Web-based weight-management intervention to help participants self-regulate their weight by either making changes in their eating and exercise habits to lose weight or making small changes to prevent or reverse weight gain.

Pitt's trial is in the recruitment phase; all seven trials are expected to start enrollment by spring 2011. Although each trial is slightly different and will be conducted within its own discrete geographical region, the teams are using a set of common measures and questionnaires so that they are able to better compare their findings when the trials are complete.


Contact: Patricia Lomando White
University of Pittsburgh

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