Scouring the Web to learn new ways to instill better health habits? Trying to find the best health app to lose weight or reduce stress? Or maybe you’re posting on Twitter and Facebook to try to build a supportive community for your healthy goals. Online and mobile health interventions are getting easier to come by but psychologists say that while social media and Internet-based treatment programs can be beneficial, there is a need for rigorous methods to help guide the development and evaluation of these programs and apps.

In a special issue of Health Psychology®, published this month, psychology practitioners and researchers discuss a range of health behaviors targeted by online and mobile platforms, including smoking cessation, substance abuse, physical activity, tanning, sleep, stress management and medication adherence.

“Health care costs continue to escalate,” said issue co-editor Belinda Borrelli, PhD, of Boston University. “But with increased access to smartphones and the Internet, there is an unprecedented opportunity to use these less expensive technologies to prevent, assess and treat health behaviors across a wide segment of the population never before thought imaginable.”

Overall, the online-only special issue covers a range of targeted health behaviors across a variety of populations (depressed patients, women at risk for breast cancer, obese adults, young adults, people with HIV) using a mix of platforms (Internet-based, text messaging, Twitter, gaming).

“It is our hope that the ‘bench to bookshelf’ trajectory that has plagued the majority of clinical research and treatment studies will not continue with this new wave of eHealth and mHealth efforts,” said co-editor Lee Ritterband, PhD, of the University of Virginia.

Articles in the issue:

"eHealth and mHealth:  Methodology, Assessment, Treatment and Dissemination Studies: Introduction to the Special Issue" (PDF, 32KB) by Belinda Borrelli, PhD, Boston University and Lee M. Ritterband, PhD, University of Virginia

This introduction to the online special issue discusses the challenges and advantages of online and mobile health technologies to promote better health behaviors. In addition, the authors address the methodological and conceptual issues facing researchers who are trying to advance the science of eHealth/mHealth. The article also summarizes the issue’s 11 articles.

"Use of an Online Smoking Cessation Community Promotes Abstinence: Results of Propensity Score Weighting" (PDF, 90KB) by Amanda L. Graham, PhD, American Legacy Foundation and Georgetown University Medical Center; George D. Papandonatos, PhD, and Bahar Erar, MSc, Brown University; Cassandra A. Stanton, PhD, Westat Inc., Rockville, Maryland, American Legacy Foundation and Georgetown University Medical Center

This study of 492 smokers who used an online treatment program to try to quit showed that the subjects who actively participated or even just lurked on one of the program’s community message boards were more successful at quitting than smokers who did not use the online forums .

"Restoring Depleted Resources: Efficacy and Mechanisms of Change of an Internet-Based Unguided Recovery Training for Better Sleep and Psychological Detachment From Work" (PDF, 144KB) by D.D. Ebert, PhD, Leuphana University, Friedrich-Alexander University and Harvard University, et al.

Promoting healthy behaviors via simple, self-guided, Web-based sessions reduced insomnia severity in a study of 128 teachers, according to this article. The sessions also reduced work-related stressors and rumination. The effects remained even six months after the subjects finished the treatment, which led the authors to believe that even simple, self-guided online sessions can provide people with the tools they need to battle stress and stress-related symptoms long-term.

"Randomized Controlled Trial of a Web-based Indoor Tanning Intervention: Acceptability and Preliminary Outcomes" (PDF, 83KB) by Jerod L. Stapleton, PhD, Sharon L. Manne, PhD, Katie Darabos, MS, Kathryn Greene, PhD, Anne E. Ray, PhD, Amber L. Turner, MPh, and Elliot J. Coups, PhD, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Young adult women who used indoor tanning salons were more likely than a control group to stop tanning six weeks after participating in a one-time online educational program that challenged body image perceptions of beauty, including being tan. This pilot randomized controlled study provides evidence that an online program targeting tanning behaviors is acceptable to young women and may encourage them to stop indoor tanning long-term.