AHA LogoThe American Heart Association (AHA) has released a comprehensive scientific statement reviewing the use of mobile health technology in the prevention of cardiovascular disease1. In this statement, they cover some of the biggest use cases for mobile health technology: weight loss, physical activity, smoking cessation, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

This AHA statement on mobile health is an incredibly far reaching and comprehensive document, the timeliness of which can not be understated. Research on the use of digital health technology has accelerated over the past several years. Digesting that growing data and turning it in to something actionable was sorely needed.

The AHA here has taken the lead in digital health by making it clear that the healthcare community is paying attention to the evidence. Not only is this document important for clinicians and researchers, but it should be essential reading for entrepreneurs and innovators developing digital health technology.

The panel performed a systematic review of studies published between 2004 and 2014; they also touched on systematic reviews and meta-analyses that had already been published in each area. Here are some highlights of each category they covered.

Weight Loss

  • Strong evidence for short-term weight loss benefits in adults from text messaging interventions for self-monitoring & feedback in conjunction with other methods like social media support, web-based resources, and so on.
  • Some evidence, based on one RCT in the UK, that a smartphone app alone may be effective, but need more research
  • Look for tools that include evidence-based content and components of comprehensive lifestyle change like calorie-control, increased physical activity with specific goal setting, self-monitoring, personalized feedback, social/coach support.

Physical Activity

  • While there are lots of activity trackers on the market, almost none were tested in the identified studies (Bodymedia armband was the exception).
  • Studies were small and heterogenous with widely varying effect sizes; we need more research here.

Smoking Cessation

  • Text-messaging based programs may be as good as nicotine replacement therapy, but there is a lot of variability between different programs
  • Text2Quit is the only US-based text-messaging program included in one of the studies available in the US
  • Only one study of a smartphone app was found and it was not as good as text messaging (caveat: the SmartQuit study came after this review)
  • Clinicians should consider text-messaging programs as an adjunct for now; don’t rely on them alone.