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May 22, 2016

Virtual Health Programs Could Improve Global Health

An online challenge promotes physical activity and weight loss in over 60 countries.

Virtual challenges have the potential to improve public health on a global scale, according to results of a virtual “Stepathlon” presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Sessions and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Conducted by researchers at Flinders University and the University of Adelaide in Australia, this study tested a virtual program designed to increase physical activity and promote a healthy weight. Known as the Stepathlon, the program organized teams of five individuals to compete for the most steps during a 100–day challenge. Participants were given free pedometers and a website for recording daily step counts and physical activity. The program was available through employers and included more than 69,000 adults across 64 countries.

After running the challenge in 2012, 2013 and 2014, researchers found that the Stepathlon helped increase physical activity, reduce sitting time and promote weight loss. On average, patients increased their activity by more than 3,500 steps a day and reduced sitting time 45 minutes during the 100–day challenges. Average weight also decreased by more than three pounds over the study periods.

According to authors, this is the first study of its kind to demonstrate the impact of virtual health programs on a global scale. While we know that virtual programs can improve health and lifestyle choices, no studies have tested them in such a diverse, international population. Recent findings prove that global initiatives to improve health through simple, online challenges are not only effective but feasible.

Of course, experts still hope to further investigate the impact of virtual programs on global health through future research. But in the meantime, experts remain hopeful about the role of mobile health programs in combating obesity and improving public health across the globe. 

Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a healthy weight for me?
  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.
  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.


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