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.