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Cash, Coaching May Boost Healthy Living
Date:5/29/2012

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 29 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that people with unhealthy lifestyles are more likely to eat better and watch less TV if they receive financial incentives, use technology to track their progress and get reminders from coaches.

It's not clear how much a program like this might cost overall, or exactly why it might work, but the study lead author said costs could drop if the coaches are virtual, not live, and she emphasized the larger message -- that a couple of simple changes in behavior can spur lasting changes.

"People are able to make healthy lifestyle changes, and they're able to make them a lot faster, sooner and larger than most of us would have believed possible," said Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine, psychology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "And once they make them, 86 percent of people tried to keep it up."

The researchers launched the study to see what might inspire people to change bad habits that put them at risk of heart disease and cancer. "People usually have more than one unhealthy behavior," Spring said. "It's so hard to know where to begin, and folks tend to get overwhelmed because they don't know how to manage it."

The researchers recruited 204 people, with an average age of 33, who had four signs of poor health: high saturated-fat levels, low consumption of fruits and vegetables, high amounts of sedentary leisure time and low levels of exercise.

"We made the assumption that we couldn't get people to change all four at once," Spring said. "We wanted to see that if we could get them to change two, would we get freebies -- some others that would come along for the ride and improve?"

The study authors randomly assigned the subjects to treatments targeting two of the four problem areas. The target goals were eating five fruits
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