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Computer calls can talk couch potatoes into walking, Stanford study finds
Date:12/4/2007

STANFORD, Calif. - Computer-generated phone calls may be an effective, low-cost way to encourage sedentary adults to exercise, according to a recent study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Results of the yearlong study found that regular telephone calls delivered from either live health educators or by an automated computer system successfully prodded inactive adults into a regular 150-minute per week exercise program.

What most surprised researchers was that the computer calls were almost as effective as the calls by a real person.

"This is the first study to directly compare the efficacy of a physical activity program delivered by a computer versus humans and found them to work similarly well," said lead author Abby King, PhD, professor of health research and policy and a senior investigator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. "Theoretically, it could be delivered to anybody around the country or around the world, and could save time and money.

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Health Psychology. Many of the 218 San Francisco Bay Area adults over the age of 55 who participated in the study, referred to as the Community Health Advice by Telephone or CHAT, insisted at the start that they would need a live human voice to be successful, King said.

"Everybody got a chance to listen to the computer program so they knew what it sounded like before we started," King said. "About 80 to 85 percent told us that they preferred or needed a human."

But this didn't prove to be true. In fact, researchers noted that participants who lacked confidence initially in their ability to increase their physical activity levels and who also felt less comfortable interacting with people generally did better overall when they didn't have to talk to a human.

"We were thrilled that at six months the results were identical between the two groups. By 12 months, there w
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Contact: Tracie White
tracie.white@stanford.edu
650-723-7628
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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