Can Email Help Your Health?

Study shows electronic messages may help you adopt better habits

By Heather Hatfield
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD

Can what's in your inbox help you lose weight?

Absolutely, says Leah Carmel of Beltsville, Md.

"I've been with WebMD's Weight Loss Clinic since June of 2003, and I've lost a total of 79 pounds," Carmel says, "I've had my share of hiccups, but I've kept chugging along with the help of weekly newsletters from WebMD and daily emails with 'Words to Lose by.'"

To her, these newsletters -- with links to articles on diet, exercise, and health; status reports on Weight Loss Clinic members; and health-conscious recipes -- are so much more than spam.

"I have a huge 6-inch binder full of all the newsletters, and I print out each of the 'Words to Lose by,'" says Carmel. "I go back and read them when I need to and that keeps my motivation going."

Indeed, a recent study indicates that contrary to popular opinion, spam can be good for your health -- at least, when it's a steady diet of health-related emails.

E-Dieting and Exercise

Researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, looked at the effects that emails containing healthy information had on a group of Canadian workers. During the 12-week study period, 1,566 members of the group got weekly messages about healthy eating and physical activity. A comparison group of 555 people did not receive the emails.

The researchers found that the group that got the emails increased physical activity levels by about 3% and improved their eating habits, while those who didn't get the emails decreased their physical activity by about 11% and saw only a slight increase in healthy eating habits. The email group also ended up with a small reduction in mean BMI (body mass index), while the mean BMI of the other group went up slightly.