Published on 06.02.19 in Vol 21, No 2 (2019): February
Preprints (earlier versions) of this paper are available at http://preprints.jmir.org/preprint/10265, first published Feb 28, 2018.
Weight Management in Young Adults: Systematic Review of Electronic Health Intervention Components and Outcomes
Background: Young adulthood is a vulnerable period for unhealthy lifestyle adoption and excess weight gain. Scant attention has been focused on developing and evaluating effective weight gain prevention strategies for this age group. Electronic health (eHealth) offers potential as a cost-effective means of delivering convenient, individually-tailored, and contextually-meaningful interventions at scale.
Objective: The primary aim of this systematic review was to locate and synthesize the evidence on eHealth weight management interventions targeting young adults, with a particular focus on (eHealth) intervention components and outcomes.
Methods: A systematic review was conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. The search strategy was executed across the following electronic databases: Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Cochrane Library, EBSCO, EMBASE, Emerald, Education Resources Information Center, Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online, Ovid, ProQuest, PsycINFO, PubMed, Science Direct, Scopus, and Web of Science. Furthermore, 2 reviewers independently assessed records for eligibility: peer-reviewed, published in English, and report evaluations of eHealth weight management interventions targeting healthy young adults (aged 18-35 years). Data were then extracted from studies that met the criteria for inclusion. The methodological quality of studies was independently assessed by 2 reviewers using the Effective Public Health Practice Project’s (EPHPP) quality assessment tool. A comprehensive narrative evidence synthesis was then completed.
Results: Out of the 1301 studies assessed for eligibility, 24 met the criteria for inclusion. According to the EPHPP quality assessment tool, overall, 19 studies were as rated weak, 5 as moderate, and none as strong. The narrative synthesis of intervention outcomes found 8 studies reported positive weight-related outcomes, 4 reported mixed outcomes, and 12 did not report any significant changes in weight-related outcomes. The narrative synthesis of (eHealth) intervention components led to 3 levels of classification. A total of 14 studies were classified as Web-based, 3 as mobile-based, and 7 as multicomponent interventions. Following the narrative synthesis, 5 key strategies were thematically identified: self-regulation (goal setting and self-monitoring), tailored or personalized feedback, contact with an interventionist, social support, and behavioral prompts (nudges and reminders) and booster messages.
Conclusions: Findings highlight the limited evidence base for eHealth weight management interventions targeting young adults. The complex nature of weight management presents an ongoing challenge for interventionists to identify what works, for whom, how, and when. The quality of the evidence in this review was generally assessed as weak; however, assessment tools such as the EPHPP are principally concerned with what should be and this is seldom equivalent to what works. Thus, while sampling, study design and retention rates will remain key determining factors of reliability and validity, further research attention directed toward the development of guiding tools for community trials is warranted.
J Med Internet Res 2019;21(2):e10265
Nearly one-third of the global population is overweight or obese, that is, more than 2.1 billion people . The prevalence of obesity is rising rapidly throughout both the developed and the developing world, creating a substantial social, economic, and health burden on society [ ]. If current trends continue, it is estimated that by 2030 almost half of the world’s adult population will be overweight or obese [ ]. Such a scenario would have devastating consequences for the global burden of noncommunicable diseases, with increasing body mass index (BMI) associated with an elevated risk of developing a chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, and certain cancers [ ]. The magnitude of the obesity epidemic has led to a shift in focus from the clinical treatment of obesity to the development of prevention strategies that address the economic, environmental, sociocultural, and lifestyle-related causes of population weight gain [ - ]. The prevention of weight gain and the maintenance of a healthy weight are considered less challenging, less expensive, and potentially more effective than the treatment of obesity after it has fully developed [ ]. Once established, obesity is difficult and costly to treat [ , ]. Owing to the projected increases in obesity prevalence, the challenges faced in delivering effective treatment, and the costs associated with treatment, it will not be possible to deliver care for all individuals in need [ ]. Therefore, the prevention of obesity and its comorbidities are, and must continue to be, a foremost public health priority.
Targeting high-risk groups with prevention interventions is hypothesized to have the greatest impact on the rising incidence of overweight and obesity . Efforts to prevent obesity have mainly focused on children and adolescents, whereas other important age groups have been overlooked [ ]. The most rapid weight gain in the life course has been observed during the early twenties to midthirties [ , ], with incident obesity at a younger age associated with increased risk of chronic disease and mortality in later adult life [ , , ].
Young adulthood is a transitional life stage in which young people experience significant life changes, increasing independence, and adopt lasting health behavior patterns . The cause of age-related weight gain during young adulthood appears to be lifestyle-based, resulting from marked declines in physical activity (PA), increases in sedentary behavior, and poor dietary habits [ - ]. These changes in PA and diet-related behaviors likely result from the significant life transitions that occur during young adulthood, such as moving out of the family home, relocating to new environments, beginning full-time work or tertiary study, and establishing financial, residential, and employment stability [ ]. Among this demographic, barriers to healthy weight maintenance exceed enablers [ ], with healthful eating and regular PA not considered high priorities [ ]. Perceived time constraints, lack of discipline, inadequate self-regulation skills, and a lack of environmental support for healthy eating and PA have all been cited as common barriers to healthy weight maintenance among young adults [ - ]. Common enablers to healthy weight maintenance include education and awareness (eg, what to eat and what not to eat), self-regulation skills (eg, practicing moderation and portion control), and positive social and environmental support [ , , ]. Importantly, the adoption of healthier lifestyle behaviors in young adulthood has been associated with a lower risk of developing chronic disease in later adult life [ ]. Given obesity is entirely preventable, the establishment and maintenance of healthy behavioral patterns in young adulthood would deliver long-term health benefits to individuals as well as cost benefits to society. Therefore, a more fine-grained understanding of the means that can be reliably used to effectively assist young adults in managing their weight is needed.
Review Rationale and Aim
Previous reviews [- ] of lifestyle interventions for obesity prevention and weight management have highlighted the limited evidence base for successful interventions among this age group. Findings from these reviews were inconclusive owing to the small number of studies available [ ], small sample sizes [ , ], heterogeneity across intervention designs [ , ], differences in participant characteristics [ ], gender biases [ ], and short intervention durations [ , ]. Traditional weight management interventions (ie, face-to-face sessions with a trained interventionist) may not meet the needs of many young adults, as evidenced by lower recruitment and retention rates, inferior attendance and compliance, and poor weight-related outcomes relative to older adult participants [ ]. Traditional interventions are resource intensive in terms of the commitment required by participants and intervention providers, which can create barriers for full participation and adherence [ ]. Moreover, the resources required to deliver face-to-face interventions (individual or group-based) prevent large-scale deployment to the wider community [ ].
Young adulthood is a developmentally unique life stage . Therefore, weight management interventions aimed at this demographic must have a specific focus on the distinct challenges faced by young adults that are known to contribute to weight gain, including rapidly shifting life circumstances related to home, work, family, and other relationships [ ]; examples of the challenges faced during this developmental period include juggling the many responsibilities that come with being an ‘adult’ [ ], continuing cognitive development through the midtwenties (eg, impulse control, regulation of emotions, and rational decision making) [ ], and learning the skills needed to sustain oneself, such as home food preparation and meal planning [ , ]. Technology may offer a cost-effective means of engaging young adults in weight management, with the current generation of young adults among the highest users of digital technologies such as social media, mobile phones, and wireless information sharing platforms [ ].
Electronic health (eHealth), defined as the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for health , offers a feasible alternative to traditional weight management interventions and has the potential to be delivered at scale. Telemedicine, first used in the 1920s, is the oldest form of eHealth. The introduction of broadband internet in the 1990s, followed by wireless technologies, precipitated an explosion of eHealth and mobile health apps within the health care field [ ]. Interventions that encompass ICTs (eg, internet-enabled mobile and tablet devices, wearable monitors) permit the efficient delivery of individually-tailored, context-specific health behavior change programs, with time-unlimited feedback, coaching, and support [ ]. The popularity, mobility, and capability of modern ICTs allow temporal synchronization of intervention delivery and allow the intervention to be delivered at a convenient time and place [ ]. For example, young adults may be sent a short message service (SMS) text message in the morning to remind them that having a nutritious breakfast is important for healthy weight maintenance [ ], with a link to healthy breakfast recipes based on items commonly available at home. eHealth-based interventions have previously demonstrated the potential to promote healthful changes in both diet and PA behaviors [ ] and have been used as a treatment option for obesity in adults [ ]. However, there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of eHealth-based approaches for weight loss maintenance and weight gain prevention [ ], especially among young adult populations. As such, the primary aim of this review was to locate and synthesize the evidence on eHealth weight management interventions targeting young adults, with a particular focus on (eHealth) intervention components and outcomes.
This systematic review was conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines . Refer to for the PRISMA checklist used in this review.
Data Sources and Search Methods
The systematic literature search was completed in September 2018. The search strategy was executed across the following electronic databases: Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Cochrane Library, EBSCO, EMBASE, Emerald, Education Resources Information Center, Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online, Ovid, ProQuest, PsycINFO, PubMed, Science Direct, Scopus, and Web of Science. As outlined by Smith et al (2011) in a systematic review of individual studies, the search should be as wide as possible to maximize the likelihood of capturing all relevant data and minimizing the effects of reporting biases. As such, a search of a wide variety of electronic databases relevant to the topic of interest is recommended as a best practice . The predetermined search strategy was designed by combining relevant search terms related to eHealth, weight management, and young adults. Search terms were divided into 4 groups: (1) intervention type (ie, eHealth variations), (2) outcome (ie, weight-related and behavioral variations), (3) study design (ie, study type variations), and (4) participants (ie, young adult variations). The full search strategy and database results are provided in . The reference lists of all included papers (backward search) and pertinent systematic reviews [ - ] were also hand searched to identify additional studies for inclusion. Google Scholar was used to screen papers citing included studies (forward search).
Study Screening and Selection
All records were downloaded to Endnote Version X8 (Clarivate Analytics), duplicates were removed, and the remaining studies were assessed for eligibility via title and abstract by 2 independent reviewers. The results were categorized by title and abstract into (1) papers appearing to meet study selection criteria, (2) papers that should be retrieved for further examination, and (3) excluded papers. In cases where there were several publications from the same cohort, the study with the longest follow-up was selected; if the follow-up was equivalent, the most recent study was included. The full-text of potentially relevant papers was then obtained and assessed by 2 independent reviewers. These papers were further categorized. At all stages, any discrepancies were discussed and resolved by consensus. Where consensus could not be reached, a third independent reviewer acting as an arbitrator was consulted.
The eligibility criteria adopted in the present review are as follows. To be included in the review, studies had to (1) be peer-reviewed, (2) be published in the English language, (3) report evaluations of eHealth weight management interventions targeting young adults (aged 18-35 years old), including randomized controlled trials (RCTs), controlled clinical trials (CCTs), and cohort studies (pretest-posttest and posttest only), (4) include participants who were healthy and free of acute illness or chronic disease, and (5) report a measure of weight pre and postintervention.
For the purposes of this review, eHealth referred to behavior change interventions, which were operationalized and transformed for delivery via ICTs including computers, tablets, mobile phones, wearable and nonwearable tracking devices, and digital games. For studies to be eligible for review, eHealth had to form the primary means of intervention delivery in at least one treatment arm. The technology could be used as both a tool to enable a process, function or service, or as the embodiment of eHealth itself . Weight management was defined as the prevention of weight gain via the maintenance of a healthy body weight or the reversal of small gains to maintain a healthy body weight [ ]. Studies that purposively recruited and subsequently evaluated weight loss or weight loss maintenance interventions among the obese (mean BMI>30 kg/m2) were excluded as the prevention of weight gain (ie, management) was the focus of this study; participants who have lost a significant amount of weight do not represent the general young adult population [ ]. The age range of 18 to 35 years was selected based on the protocol included in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Early Adult Reduction of Weight through Lifestyle Intervention trials [ ]. Weight gain is most rapid during these years [ , ], and increasing BMI in young adulthood increases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome over the subsequent 15 years almost 20-fold [ ].
Studies were excluded on the basis of the following criteria: (1) not peer-reviewed, (2) not in English, (3) not related to eHealth and weight management, (4) not an intervention evaluation, (5) included participants who were not healthy and free from acute and chronic disease, or were pregnant, (6) did not report a measure of weight pre and postintervention, or (7) did not specifically target young adults (aged 18-35 years). Studies that did not report an age range, the mean age of the sample, or the percentage of the sample who were within a given age range, were also excluded. Numbers and reasons for exclusions are reported in.
Data Extraction and Management
A data extraction form informed by the PRISMA statement was developed for abstracting study characteristics . Data extracted included the following: study details (author, year of publication, and country), study design, participants (sample size, characteristics, setting, retention, and blinding), intervention and comparator details, duration, and data collection methods, measures, outcomes, and conclusions (refer to ). Following this, summary tables were thoroughly and independently reviewed by all authors for accuracy and relevance. Any inconsistencies were resolved through discussion.
The Effective Public Health Practice Project’s (EPHPP) quality assessment tool  for quantitative studies was used to assess the methodological quality of included studies. The tool requires the assessment of 6 individual quality components (selection bias, study design, confounders, blinding, data collection methods, and withdrawals and dropouts) before assigning an overall quality rating (strong, moderate, or weak) based on a 3-point scale. The tool has been judged suitable for use in systematic reviews of effectiveness [ ] and has been reported to have content and construct validity [ , ]. Moreover, a study comparing the EPHPP quality assessment tool with the Cochrane Collaboration Risk of Bias (CCRB) tool found the EPHPP tool to have fair interrater agreement for individual domains and excellent agreement for the final grade. In contrast, the CCRB tool had only slight interrater agreement for individual domains and fair interrater agreement for the final grade. Of note, no agreement between the 2 tools was evident in their final grade assigned to each study. The authors concluded that although both tools were developed to assess quality of the evidence, they appear to measure different constructs [ ]. In the present review, 2 independent reviewers completed assessments of methodological quality according to the EPHPP tool. Any discrepancies were resolved through discussion with a third independent reviewer, acting as an arbitrator, when required.
In line with the primary aim of this review, a comprehensive narrative evidence synthesis was completed. Each study was of intrinsic interest on its own and combining such complex interventions was likely to yield a meaningless result that would not provide actionable insights for improving the design of future interventions . As such, the reviewers sought to describe the variation in study findings by qualitatively examining (eHealth) intervention components and outcomes rather than attempting to combine findings into 1 overall estimate of effectiveness [ ].
Studies were categorized into 3 groups based on (eHealth) intervention components: Web-based, mobile-based, and multi component. Web-based refers to interventions that were predominantly delivered through the use of internet-enabled functions such as e-learning platforms, websites, and email. Mobile-based denotes interventions that were primarily delivered through mobile-enabled functions including SMS text messages and mobile phone apps. Multicomponent represents interventions that used a combination of the above technologies to deliver the intervention. Behavioral change strategies were thematically identified using the Coventry, Aberdeen, and London-Refined taxonomy .
Outcomes were classified as positive if there was a significant desired change in the weight-related measure postintervention delivery, for example, decrease or maintenance in body weight, BMI, or %body fat. Outcomes were classified as mixed if not all weight-related changes were statistically significant in all intervention arms. Outcomes were classified as having no change if no statistically significant differences in the weight-related measure were reported postintervention (and when compared with control groups, if applicable).
The initial database search located 3280 records, 1979 duplicates were removed, and the remaining 1301 records were retained for title and abstract screening. Of these, 1237 were excluded as they did not meet the criteria for inclusion. The most common reasons for exclusion were the following: (1) not related to eHealth and weight management, (2) not an intervention, (3) participants had an acute illness or chronic disease, or were pregnant, or (4) the age range was too broad (eg, 18-65 years). A total of 75 full-text papers were retained and assessed for inclusion. Of these, 24 studies met the criteria for inclusion and were included in the narrative evidence synthesis.illustrates the PRISMA study selection process employed.
Of the 24 studies included, over 92% (n=22) were published from 2010 onward, and all were conducted in developed countries: a total of 17 in the United Sates [- ], 4 in Australia [ - ], 2 in the United Kingdom [ , ], and 1 in Belgium [ ]. The majority employed either a CCT design (n=7) or an RCT design (n=15). All interventions addressed weight management; however, the behavioral focus of each intervention differed: a total of 10 focused on both healthy eating and PA [ , , - , , , , ], 7 focused on multiple behaviors (eg, healthy eating, PA, stress management, and sleep) [ , , , , - ], 3 focused on self-weighing [ , ], 3 focused on PA only [ , , ], and 1 focused on healthy eating only [ ]. The number of participants within each of the studies ranged from 12 to 2621, with a mean sample size of 468 participants. The majority of studies (n=20) recruited participants from colleges or universities, with only 4 studies extending their recruitment beyond an academic setting [ - , ]. The duration of interventions ranged from 6 weeks to 24 months (mean=22 weeks), with an average retention rate at the final point of data collection of 79%. In terms of outcomes, 12 out of the 24 studies did not report any statistically significant changes in the weight-related measure(s) [ , , , , , , - , - ], 8 reported significant positive weight-related changes (eg, maintenance of a healthy weight or reversal of small gains) [ , - , , , ], and 4 reported mixed outcomes [ , , , ]. Refer to for a summary of individual study characteristics.
Intervention (Electronic Health) Components
Of the 24 studies included this review, 14 evaluated Web-based interventions [- , ], 3 evaluated mobile-based interventions [ , , ], and 7 evaluated multicomponent interventions [ , - , , ]. The following section provides a narrative synthesis of the different eHealth components employed in these studies.
Among the 14 studies evaluating Web-based interventions, 4 [- , ] comprised a Web-based education (e-learning) program, 8 [ - , , ] used a combination of internet-enabled functions (eg, e-learning, website, email, e-counselor, e-newsletter, and Wi-Fi enabled scale), and 2 [ ] used email as the sole method of intervention delivery. Typically, in the e-learning-based programs, participants (college or university students) were required to enroll in the program and complete the required modules to receive course credit for their participation [ , , , , , ]. The main behavioral change strategies employed in the e-learning-based studies were knowledge shaping, self-monitoring, social support, and contact with an interventionist (see ). For instance, in the study conducted by Gow et al (2010), students were randomized to either the (1) internet intervention arm (6 intensive e-learning sessions delivered via Blackboard), (2) feedback intervention arm (encompassing feedback from interventionists and using Blackboard for self-weighing) or (3) the combined intervention arm (e-learning sessions plus feedback) [ ]. Similar programs were designed and evaluated by Dennis et al (2012), Greene et al (2012), LaChausse et al (2012), Kattelmann et al (2014), and Nikolaou et al (2015), whereby students randomized to the intervention arm(s) completed a semester long e-learning program accessible via a centralized website [ , - ]. Specifically, Nikolaou et al (2015) used the Web-based e-learning program Moodle to deliver intervention content, with weekly email reminders sent to alert participants of new materials and mailboxes used to encourage communication between participants and interventionists [ ]. Conversely, the study conducted by Harvey-Berino et al (2012) used a Web-based e-learning platform to facilitate weekly Web-based synchronous group chats led by a trained interventionist and supported by materials accessible via the intervention website [ ].
The remaining Web-based interventions integrated multiple internet-enabled functions including e-newsletters, social network sites (SNSs), and email. The main behavioral change strategies employed in these studies were knowledge shaping, goal setting, self-monitoring, and contact with an interventionist (see). For example, the study conducted by West et al (2016) was delivered via weekly e-newsletters and a private Facebook page, with participants also receiving a Wi-Fi scale and PA tracker (Fitbit Zip) for self-monitoring [ ]. Similarly, the study conducted by Schweitzer et al (2016) comprised an adapted eHealth intervention where participants received weekly emails with tips for achieving set goals and weblinks to their personal accounts for viewing progress and accessing additional material [ ]. In contrast, Bertz et al (2015) used Wi-Fi scales and email to facilitate the implementation of the caloric titration method, which involves daily self-weighing and visual feedback to promote weight management [ ]. The final 2 studies combined both Web-based and offline components. The intervention evaluated by Dennis et al (2012) integrated both Web-based modules and biweekly in-class sessions with an expert instructor in nutrition and exercise science [ ]. Similarly, the Choosing Healthy Options in College Environments and Settings (CHOICES) trial evaluated by Lytle et al (2017) offered an academic course with e-learning, face-to-face, and hybrid options for program delivery. The Web-based program included e-learning modules, an SNS, and a support website [ ].
The 3 studies evaluating mobile-based interventions [, , ] delivered intervention content primarily via SMS text messages and mobile phone apps. The main behavioral change strategies employed in the mobile-based studies were goal setting, self-monitoring, and behavioral prompts (see ). For example, in the study conducted by Munoz et al (2014), participants used a pedometer to track PA, with brief SMS text messages (2-3 per week) sent throughout the intervention period to encourage the adoption of healthy behaviors [ ]. Similarly, in the study conducted by Kerr et al (2016), dietary intake was monitored using a mobile food record app and tailored dietary feedback was sent weekly via SMS text messages to nudge healthy eating habits [ ]. The study conducted by Simons et al (2018) comprised an investigator-designed mobile phone app (Active Coach) and a wearable device (Fitbit Charge) for tracking PA. The app included goal-setting functionalities, practical tips, and educational facts [ ].
The 7 studies [, - , , ] that were categorized as multicomponent used various eHealth technologies to deliver or support the intervention. The multicomponent studies employed a larger number of behavioral change strategies including knowledge shaping, barrier identification, goal setting, outcome expectation setting, behavioral prompts, self-monitoring, graded tasks, skill development, personalized feedback, social support, and contact with an interventionist (see ). The more complex interventions such as TXT2BFiT [ , ] and HEYMAN [ ] incorporated multiple (eHealth) intervention components and associated change strategies. The pilot TXT2BFiT study comprised short SMS text messages, emails, mobile phone apps, and an internet forum [ ]. The pilot was later refined and trialed in a larger RCT, which encompassed coaching calls by a dietician skilled in motivational interviewing, personalized SMS text messages tailored to participants’ stage of change to prompt behavior change, a website (resource bank) for knowledge shaping, and 4 designer mobile phone apps for goal setting and self-monitoring. Following the completion of the 12-week intervention, booster SMS text messages, emails, and coaching calls were used to promote long-term behavioral change [ ]. Similarly, the HEYMAN study included a website (resource bank) for knowledge shaping, wearable PA tracker (Jawbone) for goal setting and self-monitoring, weekly face-to-face sessions (60 min), personalized feedback reports, private Facebook group to facilitate social support and engagement (reminders and notifications), Gymstick resistance band to facilitate home-based strength training, and finally a TEMPlate dinner disc to guide main meal portion size [ ]. In contrast, the study conducted by West et al (2016) had an educational focus and comprised 8 sessions delivered weekly via electronic newsletters and a (private) Facebook group [ ]. The intervention encouraged frequent self-weighing, regular PA, and healthy eating. Participants received a Wi-Fi enabled scale and a wearable PA tracker (Fitbit Zip) to facilitate self-monitoring and weight maintenance. Similarly, the Tweeting to Health intervention used a Twitter account to deliver education-based content. Participants also received a wearable PA tracker (Fitbit Zip) to facilitate self-monitoring [ ].
According to the EPHPP quality assessment tool, overall, 19 out of the 24 included studies were rated as weak [- , - , , , ], 5 as moderate [ , , , , ], and none as strong. A summary of the individual component ratings and overall quality ratings is provided in . In terms of selection bias, no study reported representative sampling, with the majority using convenience sampling to recruit eligible participants from university or college-based settings. Participation rates were difficult to determine in most studies as details on consent throughout the recruitment, screening, and randomization stages were not clearly reported. Therefore, all 24 studies were classified as weak for Component A. With respect to study design, 92% (n=22) of the studies employed a CCT [ , - , ] or RCT [ - , , - ] design. The 2 remaining studies used cohort designs: 1 employed a 1-group pretest-posttest design [ ] and the other employed a 1-group posttest only design [ ]. Consequently, 22 studies were rated as strong and 2 as moderate for Component B. In terms of confounders, 13 studies [ - , , - , ] reported no significant differences between intervention and comparison (control) groups at baseline; 3 [ , , ] reported significant differences among groups but controlled for these in analyses; 3 [ , ] did not report any potential confounders; 3 [ - ] reported significant differences between groups at baseline but did not report whether these differences were controlled for; 2 [ , ] did not include a comparison group and therefore group differences were not applicable. Consequently, 16 studies [ - , , - ] were rated as strong and 8 [ , - , , ] as weak for Component C.
In terms of blinding, 16 studies [- , , , - , , , - ] did not describe blinding of outcome assessors or participants. Owing to the recruitment methods employed and the nature of the interventions (ie, behavioral modification), participants in these studies were assessed as being aware of the study’s research question unless explicitly stated otherwise. Of the remaining studies, 2 studies [ , ] were double blinded; 1 [ ] did not report blinding of outcome assessors but participants were reportedly blinded; 2 reported outcome assessors as blinded but participants as not [ , ]; blinding was not applicable in 2 studies [ , ]. Subsequently, 18 studies [ - , , - , , , ] were assessed as weak, 4 [ , , , ] as moderate, and 2 [ , ] as strong for Component D. With regard to data collection methods, 20 studies [ - , - , - ] reported some evidence of reliability (eg, Cronbach alpha) and validity (eg, reference to a validation study) for measures used to assess primary outcomes; 1 [ ] reported measures to be valid but not reliable; 3 [ , ] did not report any evidence of the reliability and validity of the measures used. Consequently, 20 studies were assessed as strong [ - , - , - ], 1 as moderate [ ], and 3 [ , ] as weak for Component E.
With respect to withdrawals and dropouts, 12 studies [, , , , , - , , , ] reported the number of dropouts but not the reasons for this attrition; 9 [ , , , , - , ] reported both the numbers and reasons (eg, medical reasons, life changes could no longer commit, no contact); 1 study [ ] did not report numbers or reasons. For the 2 remaining studies, withdrawals and dropouts were unclear [ ] and not applicable [ ]. On the basis of study completion rates, 10 studies [ , , , , - , ] were assessed as strong (80%-100% retention), 8 [ , , , - , ] as moderate (60%-79% retention), and 6 [ , , , , , ] as weak (<60% retention) for Component F.
This systematic review provides a comprehensive narrative evidence synthesis of eHealth weight management interventions targeting young adults, with a particular focus on (eHealth) intervention components and outcomes. A total of 24 studies were identified and included in the review. A majority were published from 2010 onward, conducted in developed countries, and used convenience sampling to recruit young adults from university- or college-based settings. There was large variation in the behavioral focus, intervention design and duration, sample size, and outcomes reported across the included studies. The variability across intervention outcomes highlights that additional research is warranted to extend our understanding of what works, for whom, how, and when? The following discussion provides further commentary on review findings, along with recommendations for future research.
Intervention (Electronic Health) Components
Technology as a means to communicate content in eHealth interventions is often overlooked . Frequently, technology is seen as a black box, a mere tool that has no effect or value and serves only as a vehicle to deliver intervention content [ ]. However, recent research suggests that technology should be seen as a vital and inseparable aspect of interventions [ ] and should be examined from a more holistic perspective [ , ]. With differences in persuasive technology elements and user interaction shown to be significant predictors of adherence [ ], the design of persuasive technology should be an important consideration in the development of any eHealth intervention seeking sustained adherence [ ]. Nonadherence is an issue that continues to plague the effectiveness of eHealth interventions [ , , ], with many participants failing to sustain their use of the intervention in the desired way [ ]. Given that nonoptimal exposure to an intervention has been shown to lessen intervention effect [ ], examining technology and user interaction from a more holistic perspective is necessary for improving adherence and in turn the effectiveness of eHealth interventions.
In this review, the use of eHealth components and behavioral change strategies varied, with some studies only utilizing 1 technological function (eg, SMS text message or email) and others employing a range of internet- and mobile-enabled functions (eg, website, mobile phone apps, email, and SMS text message). Earlier studies (published 2006-2012) were generally more basic by design with the majority employing an e-learning-based approach to deliver a didactic education-focused weight management program, usually as part of a college or university-based course. With a focus on education and raising awareness, these interventions offered limited opportunities for participants to interact and actively engage with the technology, and as a result, exposure to intervention content was likely suboptimal. Interaction has been shown to be a significant predictor of adherence; therefore, eHealth interventions that fail to promote user interaction are unlikely to achieve the intended usage target . Furthermore, research indicates that focusing on education (ie, knowledge shaping) alone is unlikely to achieve the level of behavior change necessary to address weight status [ , ]. Moreover, participants enrolled in the e-learning-based interventions were likely to be more motivated by the course credit on offer rather than learning new skills for healthy lifestyle adoption and weight maintenance. Later studies (published 2013-2017) became more sophisticated in their use of technology and associated behavioral change strategies, leveraging modern technological innovations. For example, using algorithms for content tailoring (eg, knowledge shaping), mobile phone apps and wearable devices for tracking behavior (eg, goal setting and self-monitoring) and relaying real-time feedback (eg, prompt review and reinforcement) to improve the capability, interactivity, and mobility of the intervention. Research has found eHealth interventions, which are enhanced by a range of features (eg, personalized e-feedback, chat rooms, and goal-setting and self-monitoring tools), support greater retention and usage of the intervention than standard (or basic) eHealth interventions [ ]. It should be noted that 5 studies [ , , , , ] also incorporated face-to-face (individual or group-based) sessions in 1 or more of the intervention (treatment) arms, further highlighting the limited evidence base for eHealth weight management interventions targeting young adults.
Recommended Intervention Strategies Delivered Via Electronic Health
Although the evidence for successful eHealth weight management interventions targeting young adults (aged 18 to 35 years) was limited, common behavioral change strategies and techniques were able to be thematically identified, with an emphasis placed on the studies categorized as having positive or mixed weight-related outcomes. The 5 strategies identified included the following: self-regulation (goal setting and self-monitoring), tailored or personalized feedback, contact with an interventionist, social support, and behavioral prompts (nudges and reminders) and booster messages.
Self-Regulation (Via Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring)
Most weight management interventions promote goal setting along with some form of self-monitoring, usually recommending that participants should record details pertaining to their behavioral patterns (eg, dietary intake and PA) and weight (eg, BMI) and review tracking data in line with their goals or recommended guidelines to evaluate progress and identify where further changes are needed . The premise of self-regulation for changing finely ingrained habits is that monitoring of one’s behavior will lead to self-evaluation of progress made toward previously set goals, with ensuing self-reinforcement following this evaluation. Thus, the process of changing habits requires well-developed self-regulatory skills [ , ]. Self-monitoring and goal setting are central to this process [ ]. Self-monitoring requires deliberate attention to one’s own actions, as well as the conditions under which they occur, and their immediate and long-term effects [ ]. Research indicates that self-monitoring of key behaviors has been associated with successful weight maintenance [ , - ]. In particular, the use of technology for self-monitoring has been suggested as a way of lessening the burden of self-monitoring and enhancing adherence [ ]. In this review, all studies reporting positive weight-related outcomes implemented some form of self-monitoring (eg, frequent self-weighing, monitoring PA, or dietary intake). For instance, in the HEYMAN intervention [ ], participants received a Jawbone wearable PA tracker with an associated mobile phone app (UP app) to assist in goal setting and self-monitoring and a TEMPlate dinner disc to guide main meal portion size. The findings from this review suggest that improving self-regulation skills should be a central focus of future eHealth weight management interventions, particularly given young adults often lack such skills [ ].
Tailored or Personalized Feedback
Tailoring has been shown to enhance the effectiveness of behavior change interventions, including eHealth-based interventions [, ]. Tailoring involves gathering and assessing personal data to determine the most effective strategy to meet the specific needs of an individual [ ]. Collecting data for tailoring intervention content enables personalized feedback, commands greater attention and is processed more deeply by the recipient and is perceived as more likable than a generic message [ , ]. With ready access to data provision and retrieval, the internet provides a powerful tool for tailoring interventions [ ]. Interactive and responsive tailoring enhances the user’s experience with and understanding of intervention content [ , ]. Tailoring can range from simple Web-based assessments and feedback to highly sophisticated interventions that are completely customized [ ]. Of the studies reporting tailoring in this review, most only employed simple tailoring based on either Web-based or in-person health assessments. For example, in the trial conducted by Bertz et al (2015), participants weighed themselves daily using Wi-Fi scales and immediately received an email containing their weight plotted over time with a horizontal reference line indicating their target weight [ ]. A few studies employed more sophisticated levels of tailoring. The TXT2BFiT intervention [ ] used a staging algorithm based on the Transtheoretical/Stages of Change Model to generate a personalized set of SMS text messages, which were tailored to whether the participant was in precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, or maintenance stages of change for each of the 4 behaviors addressed. More cognitive messages were included if a participant was in 1 of the early stages of change, and the messages were more behavioral if the participant was in the action or maintenance stages of change. We recommend that future studies experiment with more sophisticated methods of tailoring to empirically test which aspects of the tailored messages promote adherence and in turn enhance effectiveness in this context.
Contact With an Interventionist
Several studies included in this review incorporated in-person support from an interventionist. Human support has been shown to enhance the effectiveness of and adherence to eHealth interventions via accountability to a coach who is seen as trustworthy, benevolent, and having expertise . However, intervention designs incorporating in-person support are resource intensive. A trained specialist is needed to deliver intervention content and monitor participants to ensure the correct treatment dose is received and the fidelity of the intervention is maintained. In addition, the facilities and equipment required to deliver the intervention must be procured. Furthermore, the effort that is required on the part of participants to commit to and attend in-person counseling sessions can create barriers (eg, cost of travel, lack of parking at venues, and limited availability) to full participation and adherence [ ]. The high cost and inability of these interventions to reach diverse demographic and socioeconomic groups thwart large-scale deployment to the wider community [ ]. More economical methods that may provide similar outcomes to face-to-face contact, while reducing the costs associated with intervention delivery, include coaching calls via telephone, email, chat forums, and SNSs [ ]. For example, in the TXT2BFiT intervention [ ], participants received 5 coaching calls focused on goal setting and a review from a dietician skilled in motivation interviewing. Similarly, in the CHOICES intervention [ ], a study specific SNS facilitated participant engagement with peers and the intervention staff. Future research should consider the potential benefits and disadvantages of different communication mediums to deliver expert support at scale.
Social support has been identified as an important factor in the provision of lifestyle-focused weight management interventions [- ], including those supported by technology [ ]. In particular, SNSs provide an ideal platform for facilitating social support with access to large existing (or new) networks of influencers [ ]. The studies incorporating social support in this review typically facilitated peer support via online chat forums or SNSs. For example, in the CHOICES intervention conducted by Lytle et al (2017), a study-specific SNS was created to encourage discussion and interaction among participants [ ]. Similarly, in the HEYMAN intervention, a combination of in-person (via group-based sessions) and Web-based social support (via a private Facebook group) was employed to facilitate interaction among participants [ ]. Given that there is research to show that social contacts and normative beliefs influence weight status and intentions for weight control in young adults [ ], mediums for delivering social support should be a key consideration in future research.
Behavioral Prompts (Nudges and Reminders) and Booster Messages
Maintenance of behavior change presents an ongoing challenge for behavior change research, with very little actually known about the process of behavioral maintenance . The evidence supporting the use of behavioral nudges, reminders, and booster sessions for behavioral change and maintenance is mixed [ ]. However, findings from this review indicate that booster emails, SMS text messages, and coaching calls may help promote behavioral maintenance over the longer term. For example, in the TXT2BFiT intervention [ ], a low dose maintenance phase was implemented following the completion of the initial 12-week intervention. In this maintenance phase, participants received monthly SMS text messages and emails and 2 booster coaching calls at 5 and 8 months. Technology offers a feasible means of delivering strategies that promote behavioral maintenance; however, further research is needed to better understand the process of behavioral maintenance.
Quality of Included Studies
A majority of studies included in this review were of weak methodological quality according to EPHPP quality assessment ratings. The main weaknesses identified were the following: a lack of studies employing representative sampling, not clearly reporting participation rates, not blinding assessors and participants to group allocation, and low completion rates. Future research should aim to address these issues to improve the methodological quality of the evidence for eHealth weight management interventions targeting young adults.
Representativeness in eHealth-based research is crucial for ensuring interventions are capable of reaching large, representative numbers of the target population, particularly those who are most in need of treatment . According to Glasgow (2007), reach is a function of both participation rate and the representativeness of participants compared with nonparticipants based upon a set of key characteristics including race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, computer experience, and health literacy [ ]. Participant characteristics across the studies included in this review were similar, with the majority of participants recruited from large western universities or colleges using convenience sampling procedures. Consequently, the results obtained from these studies are limited to a very small, homogenous (ie, high socioeconomic status, education level, and health literacy level) subgroup of the target population, and they are unlikely to generalize to the larger target population, including those most in need (ie, socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, low education and health literacy, ethnic minorities, and rural and remote communities) [ ]. The study conducted by Simons et al (2018) is the exception as investigators specifically recruited lower-educated working young adults. Although difficulties in recruiting young adults are acknowledged [ , ], to improve representativeness, future research should aim to employ probability sampling methods, maintain a careful record of recruitment strategies and results, and collect data on both participant and nonparticipant characteristics.
The design of most studies included in this review was rated as strong; however, very few reported blinding of outcome assessors and participants. As a consequence, findings from these studies were likely influenced by detection and reporting bias . Importantly, the 2 studies [ , ] that were reportedly double blinded reported positive weight-related outcomes, and 2 out of the 3 studies [ , , ] reporting some level of blinding (either outcome assessors or participants) reported positive weight-related outcomes. Therefore, where practical and feasible, future research should aim for double-blinded allocations.
Finally, intervention durations and completion rates varied significantly across studies (6 weeks-24 months for duration; 42%-98% for retention), which affects the veracity of study findings and the ability to compare outcomes. Coupled with the lack of studies reporting details on effective recruitment strategies and reasons for attrition, the current understandings on how best to recruit and engage young adults in weight management studies is limited [, , ]. To improve participation rates, retention, and resource allocation efficiency, future research should keep a careful record of recruitment strategies, participation rates, and reasons for attrition by following up with withdrawals and dropouts.
A number of limitations, many of which represent opportunities for future research, are acknowledged. First, the search parameters employed were specific to the review’s research aim, thereby limiting the number of studies identified. For example, grey literature, nonpeer-reviewed research, and studies not published in English were excluded. Future research may therefore extend this review by including grey literature, nonpeer-reviewed research, and studies not published in English. Moreover, all studies included in this review were conducted in developed countries; however, obesity is not isolated to the developed world . Thus, extending the current review to include research from developing countries could provide valuable insight into the generalizability of study findings in different geographic contexts. Furthermore, future research may adopt the Patient, Problem or Population, Intervention, Comparison, Control or Comparator, and Outcomes framework to inform the search strategy and eligibility criteria and compare whether this approach yields the same or different results as in this review. Second, the highly complex nature of the interventions included in this review limited our ability to confidently isolate the active drivers of intervention outcomes [ ]. Although some potential behavioral change strategies were thematically identified, definitive conclusions as to which intervention components were contributing most to outcomes (or lack thereof) were not able to be made. Future research should follow published guidelines on developing and evaluating complex interventions to permit critical appraisal [ ], and research is called for to expand the evidence base. As the evidence base grows, we recommend that narrower age ranges should be set to extend understanding. Third, the EPHPP quality assessment tool, although deemed appropriate for the purposes of this review, is one of several tools that can be used to evaluate the quality of quantitative studies. As such, overall quality ratings should be interpreted with the specific characteristics of this tool in mind, given different assessment outcomes can arise from different tools [ ].
Furthermore, obtaining representative samples and blinding participants to group allocation in interventions attempting to modify behavior(s) are not often practical or feasible. Assessment tools such as the EPHPP are principally concerned with what should be and this is seldom equivalent to what works in the field. Therefore, although the quality of the evidence in this review was generally assessed as weak, results should be interpreted tentatively. Sampling, study design, and retention rates will remain key determining factors of reliability and validity; however, further research attention should be directed toward the applicability, generalizability, and impact potential of studies. Given a large proportion of weight management interventions are delivered in-field, with varying budget amounts, expecting study designs to conform to the standards set within quality assessment tools arising from controlled clinical settings may not be realistic. As such, additional research is needed to better understand which metrics can be reliably applied within different research designs. For instance, future reviews may consider incorporating the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation  assessment tool to provide an overall judgement of the evidence base and in turn guide future practice. Future research may opt to narrow the scope of review to 1 specific behavior or study design to permit metaanalytic comparisons; however, the results of this review suggest such a narrow scope would significantly limit the number of eligible studies available for quantitative comparison at this point in time. Finally, we recommend that future studies publish a review protocol (researchprotocols.org) to establish an early scientific record, promote transparency, solicit early feedback, and enhance review methods and processes.
The prevention of unhealthy weight gain in young adults provides a new target for reducing the rising prevalence of obesity, and it is one that could offer an effective transgenerational approach to obesity prevention. Consequently, there is a need to develop effective weight management programs that are capable of engaging a large number of young adults in healthy lifestyle adoption over the longer term. An eHealth-based approach offers potential, with young adults among the highest users of digital technologies. However, at present, there is limited high-quality, peer-reviewed evidence available. Future research must be directed toward improving the methodological quality of the evidence and establishing which specific elements of eHealth weight management interventions are most effective in achieving the desired outcomes, thereby answering the for whom, how, and when question.
This work was supported by the Commonwealth Government of Australia via a Research Training Program Scholarship to the first author (TJW).
Conflicts of Interest
Multimedia Appendix 1
Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses checklist completed during the review.PDF File (Adobe PDF File), 50KB
Multimedia Appendix 2
Search strategy and database results.PDF File (Adobe PDF File), 40KB
Multimedia Appendix 3
Summary of individual study characteristics.PDF File (Adobe PDF File), 262KB
Multimedia Appendix 4
Summary of Effective Public Health Practice Project quality assessment results.PDF File (Adobe PDF File), 33KB
- Ng M, Fleming T, Robinson M, Thomson B, Graetz N, Margono C, et al. Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet 2014 Aug 30;384(9945):766-781. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Dobbs R, Sawers C, Thompson F. McKinsey Global Institute. 2014. Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis URL: https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business%20Functions/Economic%20Studies%20TEMP/Our%20Insights/How%20the%20world%20could%20better%20fight%20obesity/MGI_Overcoming_obesity_Full_report.ashx [accessed 2018-02-28] [WebCite Cache]
- Kelly T, Yang W, Chen C, Reynolds K, He J. Global burden of obesity in 2005 and projections to 2030. Int J Obes (Lond) 2008 Sep;32(9):1431-1437. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- World Health Organization. 2010. Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2010 URL: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/44579/6/9789244564226_rus.pdf [accessed 2017-08-28] [WebCite Cache]
- Müller MJ, Mast M, Asbeck I, Langnäse K, Grund A. Prevention of obesity--is it possible? Obes Rev 2001 Feb;2(1):15-28. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Kumanyika SK, Obarzanek E, Stettler N, Bell R, Field AE, Fortmann SP, American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology Prevention‚ Interdisciplinary Committee for Prevention. Population-based prevention of obesity: the need for comprehensive promotion of healthful eating, physical activity, and energy balance: a scientific statement from American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, Interdisciplinary Committee for Prevention (formerly the expert panel on population and prevention science). Circulation 2008 Jul 22;118(4):428-464 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- King L, Gill T, Allender S, Swinburn B. Best practice principles for community-based obesity prevention: development, content and application. Obes Rev 2011 May;12(5):329-338. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Gill T, King L, Caterson I. Obesity prevention: necessary and possible. A structured approach for effective planning. Proc Nutr Soc 2005 May;64(2):255-261. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Pi-Sunyer X. A clinical view of the obesity problem. Science 2003 Feb 07;299(5608):859-860. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Proietto J. Why is treating obesity so difficult? Justification for the role of bariatric surgery. Med J Aust 2011 Aug 01;195(3):144-146. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Dietz WH. Obesity and excessive weight gain in young adults: new targets for prevention. J Am Med Assoc 2017 Dec 18;318(3):241-242. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Zheng Y, Manson JE, Yuan C, Liang MH, Grodstein F, Stampfer MJ, et al. Associations of weight gain from early to middle adulthood with major health outcomes later in life. J Am Med Assoc 2017 Jul 18;318(3):255-269. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Flegal KM, Kruszon-Moran D, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Trends in obesity among adults in the United States, 2005 to 2014. J Am Med Assoc 2016 Jun 07;315(21):2284-2291. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- de Mutsert R, Sun Q, Willett WC, Hu FB, van Dam RM. Overweight in early adulthood, adult weight change, and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers in men: a cohort study. Am J Epidemiol 2014 Jun 1;179(11):1353-1365 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Adams KF, Leitzmann MF, Ballard-Barbash R, Albanes D, Harris TB, Hollenbeck A, et al. Body mass and weight change in adults in relation to mortality risk. Am J Epidemiol 2014 Jan 15;179(2):135-144 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Nelson MC, Story M, Larson NI, Neumark-Sztainer D, Lytle LA. Emerging adulthood and college-aged youth: an overlooked age for weight-related behavior change. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008 Oct;16(10):2205-2211. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Hankinson AL, Daviglus ML, Bouchard C, Carnethon M, Lewis CE, Schreiner PJ, et al. Maintaining a high physical activity level over 20 years and weight gain. J Am Med Assoc 2010 Dec 15;304(23):2603-2610 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- De Cocker KA, van Uffelen JG, Brown WJ. Associations between sitting time and weight in young adult Australian women. Prev Med 2010 Nov;51(5):361-367. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Larson N, Neumark-Sztainer D, Laska MN, Story M. Young adults and eating away from home: associations with dietary intake patterns and weight status differ by choice of restaurant. J Am Diet Assoc 2011 Nov;111(11):1696-1703 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Duffey KJ, Gordon-Larsen P, Steffen LM, Jacobs DR, Popkin BM. Drinking caloric beverages increases the risk of adverse cardiometabolic outcomes in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2010 Oct;92(4):954-959 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Sherwood NE, Jeffery RW, French SA, Hannan PJ, Murray DM. Predictors of weight gain in the Pound of Prevention study. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2000 Apr;24(4):395-403. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Kimmons J, Gillespie C, Seymour J, Serdula M, Blanck HM. Fruit and vegetable intake among adolescents and adults in the United States: percentage meeting individualized recommendations. Medscape J Med 2009;11(1):26. [Medline]
- Greaney ML, Less FD, White AA, Dayton SF, Riebe D, Blissmer B, et al. College students' barriers and enablers for healthful weight management: a qualitative study. J Nutr Educ Behav 2009;41(4):281-286. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Strong KA, Parks SL, Anderson E, Winett R, Davy BM. Weight gain prevention: identifying theory-based targets for health behavior change in young adults. J Am Diet Assoc 2008 Oct;108(10):1708-1715 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Andajani-Sutjahjo S, Ball K, Warren N, Inglis V, Crawford D. Perceived personal, social and environmental barriers to weight maintenance among young women: a community survey. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 2004 Dec 5;1(1):15 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Sand A, Emaus N, Lian OS. Motivation and obstacles for weight management among young women-a qualitative study with a public health focus - the Tromsø study: Fit Futures. BMC Public Health 2017 Dec 08;17(1):417 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Spring B, Moller AC, Colangelo LA, Siddique J, Roehrig M, Daviglus ML, et al. Healthy lifestyle change and subclinical atherosclerosis in young adults: Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Circulation 2014 Jul 1;130(1):10-17. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Partridge SR, Juan SJ, McGeechan K, Bauman A, Allman-Farinelli M. Poor quality of external validity reporting limits generalizability of overweight and/or obesity lifestyle prevention interventions in young adults: a systematic review. Obes Rev 2015 Jan;16(1):13-31. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Hutchesson MJ, Hulst J, Collins CE. Weight management interventions targeting young women: a systematic review. J Acad Nutr Diet 2013 Jun;113(6):795-802. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Hebden L, Chey T, Allman-Farinelli M. Lifestyle intervention for preventing weight gain in young adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of RCTs. Obes Rev 2012 Aug;13(8):692-710. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Laska MN, Pelletier JE, Larson NI, Story M. Interventions for weight gain prevention during the transition to young adulthood: a review of the literature. J Adolesc Health 2012 Apr;50(4):324-333 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Poobalan AS, Aucott LS, Precious E, Crombie IK, Smith WC. Weight loss interventions in young people (18 to 25 year olds): a systematic review. Obes Rev 2010 Aug;11(8):580-592. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Oosterveen E, Tzelepis F, Ashton L, Hutchesson MJ. A systematic review of eHealth behavioral interventions targeting smoking, nutrition, alcohol, physical activity and/or obesity for young adults. Prev Med 2017 Jun;99:197-206. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Gokee-LaRose J, Gorin AA, Raynor HA, Laska MN, Jeffery RW, Levy RL, et al. Are standard behavioral weight loss programs effective for young adults? Int J Obes (Lond) 2009 Dec;33(12):1374-1380 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Giedd JN. Structural magnetic resonance imaging of the adolescent brain. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2004 Jun;1021:77-85. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Larson NI, Perry CL, Story M, Neumark-Sztainer D. Food preparation by young adults is associated with better diet quality. J Am Diet Assoc 2006 Dec;106(12):2001-2007. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Laska MN, Graham D, Moe SG, Lytle L, Fulkerson J. Situational characteristics of young adults' eating occasions: a real-time data collection using Personal Digital Assistants. Public Health Nutr 2011 Mar;14(3):472-479. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Lenhart A, Purcell K, Smith A, Zickuhr K. Pew Internet. Social Media & Mobile Internet Use among Teens and Young Adults URL: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED525056.pdf [accessed 2018-03-01] [WebCite Cache]
- World Health Organization. 2017. eHealth at WHO URL: http://www.who.int/ehealth/about/en/ [accessed 2018-03-01] [WebCite Cache]
- Rooij TV, Marsh S. eHealth: past and future perspectives. Per Med 2016 Jan;13(1):57-70. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Free C, Phillips G, Galli L, Watson L, Felix L, Edwards P, et al. The effectiveness of mobile-health technology-based health behaviour change or disease management interventions for health care consumers: a systematic review. PLoS Med 2013;10(1):e1001362 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Deshmukh-Taskar PR, Nicklas TA, O'Neil CE, Keast DR, Radcliffe JD, Cho S. The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumption with nutrient intake and weight status in children and adolescents: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2006. J Am Diet Assoc 2010 Jun;110(6):869-878. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Vandelanotte C, Müller AM, Short CE, Hingle M, Nathan N, Williams SL, et al. Past, present, and future of eHealth and mHealth research to improve physical activity and dietary behaviors. J Nutr Educ Behav 2016 Mar;48(3):219-228.e1. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Hutchesson MJ, Rollo ME, Krukowski R, Ells L, Harvey J, Morgan PJ, et al. eHealth interventions for the prevention and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Obes Rev 2015 May;16(5):376-392. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Liberati A, Altman DG, Tetzlaff J, Mulrow C, Gøtzsche PC, Ioannidis JP, et al. The PRISMA statement for reporting systematic reviews and meta-analyses of studies that evaluate health care interventions: explanation and elaboration. PLoS Med 2009 Jul 21;6(7):e1000100 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Smith V, Devane D, Begley CM, Clarke M. Methodology in conducting a systematic review of systematic reviews of healthcare interventions. BMC Med Res Methodol 2011;11(1):15 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Oh H, Rizo C, Enkin M, Jadad A. What is eHealth (3): a systematic review of published definitions. J Med Internet Res 2005;7(1):e1 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Overweight and Obesity URL: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/behaviours-risk-factors/overweight-obesity/data [accessed 2018-12-14] [WebCite Cache]
- Lytle LA, Svetkey LP, Patrick K, Belle SH, Fernandez ID, Jakicic JM, et al. The EARLY trials: a consortium of studies targeting weight control in young adults. Transl Behav Med 2014 Sep;4(3):304-313 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Lloyd-Jones DM, Liu K, Colangelo LA, Yan LL, Klein L, Loria CM, et al. Consistently stable or decreased body mass index in young adulthood and longitudinal changes in metabolic syndrome components: the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study. Circulation 2007 Feb 27;115(8):1004-1011. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Thomas BH, Ciliska D, Dobbins M, Micucci S. A process for systematically reviewing the literature: providing the research evidence for public health nursing interventions. Worldviews Evid Based Nurs 2004;1(3):176-184. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Deeks JJ, Dinnes J, D'Amico R, Sowden AJ, Sakarovitch C, Song F, International Stroke Trial Collaborative Group, European Carotid Surgery Trial Collaborative Group. Evaluating non-randomised intervention studies. Health Technol Assess 2003;7(27):iii-x, 1 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Jackson N, Waters E, Guidelines for Systematic Reviews in Health Promotion Public Health Taskforce. Criteria for the systematic review of health promotion and public health interventions. Health Promot Int 2005 Dec;20(4):367-374. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Armijo-Olivo S, Stiles CR, Hagen NA, Biondo PD, Cummings GG. Assessment of study quality for systematic reviews: a comparison of the Cochrane Collaboration Risk of Bias Tool and the Effective Public Health Practice Project Quality Assessment Tool: methodological research. J Eval Clin Pract 2012 Feb;18(1):12-18. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Higgins J, Green S. Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions. West Sussex, England: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated; 2008.
- Michie S, Ashford S, Sniehotta FF, Dombrowski SU, Bishop A, French DP. A refined taxonomy of behaviour change techniques to help people change their physical activity and healthy eating behaviours: the CALO-RE taxonomy. Psychol Health 2011 Nov;26(11):1479-1498. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Kattelmann KK, Bredbenner CB, White AA, Greene GW, Hoerr SL, Kidd T, et al. The effects of Young Adults Eating and Active for Health (YEAH): a theory-based web-delivered intervention. J Nutr Educ Behav 2014;46(6):S27-S41. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Muñoz L, La FK, Dominguez D. Text messaging as a tool to increase physical activity in college students. Physical Educator 2014;71(3):442 [FREE Full text]
- Lytle LA, Laska MN, Linde JA, Moe SG, Nanney MS, Hannan PJ, et al. Weight-gain reduction among 2-year college students: the CHOICES RCT. Am J Prev Med 2017 Feb;52(2):183-191 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Wing RR, Tate DF, Espeland MA, Lewis CE, LaRose JG, Gorin AA, Study of Novel Approaches to Weight Gain Prevention (SNAP) Research Group. Innovative self-regulation strategies to reduce weight gain in young adults: the Study of Novel Approaches to Weight Gain Prevention (SNAP) randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med 2016 Dec 01;176(6):755-762 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Schweitzer AL, Ross JT, Klein CJ, Lei KY, Mackey ER. n electronic wellness program to improve diet and exercise in college students: a pilot study. JMIR Res Protoc 2016;5(1):e29 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Nikolaou CK, Hankey CR, Lean ME. Elearning approaches to prevent weight gain in young adults: a randomized controlled study. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2015 Dec;23(12):2377-2384 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Bertz F, Pacanowski CR, Levitsky DA. Frequent self-weighing with electronic graphic feedback to prevent age-related weight gain in young adults. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2015 Oct;23(10):2009-2014 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Harvey-Berino J, Pope L, Gold BC, Leonard H, Belliveau C. Undergrad and overweight: an online behavioral weight management program for college students. J Nutr Educ Behav 2012;44(6):604-608. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Lachausse RG. My student body: effects of an internet-based prevention program to decrease obesity among college students. J Am Coll Health 2012;60(4):324-330. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Greene GW, White AA, Hoerr SL, Lohse B, Schembre SM, Riebe D, et al. Impact of an online healthful eating and physical activity program for college students. Am J Health Promot 2012;27(2):e47-e58. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Dennis EA, Potter KL, Estabrooks PA, Davy BM. Weight gain prevention for college freshmen: comparing two social cognitive theory-based interventions with and without explicit self-regulation training. J Obes 2012;2012:803769 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Wadsworth DD, Hallam JS. Effect of a web site intervention on physical activity of college females. Am J Health Behav 2010;34(1):60-69. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Gow RW, Trace SE, Mazzeo SE. Preventing weight gain in first year college students: an online intervention to prevent the "freshman fifteen". Eat Behav 2010 Jan;11(1):33-39 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Levitsky DA, Garay J, Nausbaum M, Neighbors L, Dellavalle DM. Monitoring weight daily blocks the freshman weight gain: a model for combating the epidemic of obesity. Int J Obes (Lond) 2006 Jun;30(6):1003-1010. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Chung AE, Skinner AC, Hasty SE, Perrin EM. Tweeting to Health: a novel mHealth intervention using Fitbits and Twitter to foster healthy lifestyles. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 2016 Jun 16;56(1):26-32. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- West DS, Monroe CM, Turner-McGrievy G, Sundstrom B, Larsen C, Magradey K, et al. A technology-mediated behavioral weight gain prevention intervention for college students: controlled, quasi-experimental study. J Med Internet Res 2016 Jun 13;18(6):e133 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Hebden L, Cook A, van der Ploeg HP, King L, Bauman A, Allman-Farinelli M. A mobile health intervention for weight management among young adults: a pilot randomised controlled trial. J Hum Nutr Diet 2014 Aug;27(4):322-332. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Allman-Farinelli M, Partridge SR, McGeechan K, Balestracci K, Hebden L, Wong A, et al. A mobile health lifestyle program for prevention of weight gain in young adults (TXT2BFiT): nine-month outcomes of a randomized controlled trial. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth 2016 Jun 22;4(2):e78 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Kerr DA, Harray AJ, Pollard CM, Dhaliwal SS, Delp EJ, Howat PA, et al. The connecting health and technology study: a 6-month randomized controlled trial to improve nutrition behaviours using a mobile food record and text messaging support in young adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 2016 Apr 21;13:52 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Ashton LM, Morgan PJ, Hutchesson MJ, Rollo ME, Collins CE. Feasibility and preliminary efficacy of the 'HEYMAN' healthy lifestyle program for young men: a pilot randomised controlled trial. Nutr J 2017 Jan 13;16(1):2 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Epton T, Norman P, Dadzie A, Harris PR, Webb TL, Sheeran P, et al. A theory-based online health behaviour intervention for new university students (U@Uni): results from a randomised controlled trial. BMC Public Health 2014;14:563 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Cameron D, Epton T, Norman P, Sheeran P, Harris PR, Webb TL, et al. A theory-based online health behaviour intervention for new university students (U@Uni:LifeGuide): results from a repeat randomized controlled trial. Trials 2015;16(1):555 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Simons D, De Bourdeaudhuij I, Clarys P, De Cocker K, Vandelanotte C, Deforche B. Effect and process evaluation of a smartphone app to promote an active lifestyle in lower educated working young adults: cluster randomized controlled trial. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth 2018 Aug 24;6(8):e10003 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Christensen H, Griffiths KM, Farrer L. Adherence in internet interventions for anxiety and depression. J Med Internet Res 2009;11(2):e13 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Kelders SM, Kok RN, Ossebaard HC, Van Gemert-Pijnen EW. Persuasive system design does matter: a systematic review of adherence to web-based interventions. J Med Internet Res 2012;14(6):e152 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Cugelman B, Thelwall M, Dawes P. Online interventions for social marketing health behavior change campaigns: a meta-analysis of psychological architectures and adherence factors. J Med Internet Res 2011;13(1):e17 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- van Gemert-Pijnen JE, Nijland N, van Limburg M, Ossebaard HC, Kelders SM, Eysenbach G, et al. A holistic framework to improve the uptake and impact of eHealth technologies. J Med Internet Res 2011;13(4):e111 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Fogg B. Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. Burlington: Morgan Kaufmann; Dec 01, 2002:2.
- Eysenbach G. The law of attrition. J Med Internet Res 2005;7(1):e11 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Donkin L, Christensen H, Naismith SL, Neal B, Hickie IB, Glozier N. A systematic review of the impact of adherence on the effectiveness of e-therapies. J Med Internet Res 2011;13(3):e52 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Gill T, Boylan S. Public health messages: why are they ineffective and what can be done? Curr Obes Rep 2012;1(1):50-58 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef]
- Gill T, King L, Bauman A. The University of Sydney. A "state of the knowledge" assessment of comprehensive interventions that address the drivers of obesity URL: https://pdfsecret.com/download/a-state-of-the-knowledge-assessment-of-comprehensive_5a132869d64ab24772a6c3f3_pdf [accessed 2018-03-01] [WebCite Cache]
- Collins CE, Morgan PJ, Hutchesson MJ, Callister R. Efficacy of standard versus enhanced features in a Web-based commercial weight-loss program for obese adults, part 2: randomized controlled trial. J Med Internet Res 2013;15(7):e140 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Van Dorsten B, Lindley EM. Cognitive and behavioral approaches in the treatment of obesity. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am 2008 Dec;37(4):905-922. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Butryn ML, Phelan S, Hill JO, Wing RR. Consistent self-monitoring of weight: a key component of successful weight loss maintenance. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2007 Dec;15(12):3091-3096. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Linde JA, Jeffery RW, French SA, Pronk NP, Boyle RG. Self-weighing in weight gain prevention and weight loss trials. Ann Behav Med 2005 Dec;30(3):210-216. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Bandura A. Health promotion from the perspective of social cognitive theory. Psychol Health 1998;13(4):623-649 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef]
- Noar SM, Benac CN, Harris MS. Does tailoring matter? Meta-analytic review of tailored print health behavior change interventions. Psychol Bull 2007 Jul;133(4):673-693. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Lustria ML, Cortese J, Noar SM, Glueckauf RL. Computer-tailored health interventions delivered over the web: review and analysis of key components. Patient Educ Couns 2009 Feb;74(2):156-173. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Kreuter MW, Farrell DW, Olevitch LR, Brennan LK. Tailoring Health Messages: Customizing Communication With Computer Technology. Abingdon, UK: Routledge; 2013.
- Burke LE, Wang J, Sevick MA. Self-monitoring in weight loss: a systematic review of the literature. J Am Diet Assoc 2011 Jan;111(1):92-102 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Kreuter MW, Wray RJ. Tailored and targeted health communication: strategies for enhancing information relevance. Am J Health Behav 2003 Dec;27(Suppl 3):S227-S232. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Mohr DC, Cuijpers P, Lehman K. Supportive accountability: a model for providing human support to enhance adherence to eHealth interventions. J Med Internet Res 2011;13(1):e30 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Dombrowski SU, Sniehotta FF, Johnston M, Broom I, Kulkarni U, Brown J, et al. Optimizing acceptability and feasibility of an evidence-based behavioral intervention for obese adults with obesity-related co-morbidities or additional risk factors for co-morbidities: an open-pilot intervention study in secondary care. Patient Educ Couns 2012 Apr;87(1):108-119. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Tate DF, Jackvony EH, Wing RR. A randomized trial comparing human e-mail counseling, computer-automated tailored counseling, and no counseling in an internet weight loss program. Arch Intern Med 2006;166(15):1620-1625. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Elfhag K, Rössner S. Who succeeds in maintaining weight loss? A conceptual review of factors associated with weight loss maintenance and weight regain. Obes Rev 2005 Feb;6(1):67-85. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Leahey TM, Gokee LJ, Fava JL, Wing RR. Social influences are associated with BMI and weight loss intentions in young adults. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2011 Jun;19(6):1157-1162 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Verheijden MW, Bakx JC, van Weel C, Koelen MA, van Staveren WA. Role of social support in lifestyle-focused weight management interventions. Eur J Clin Nutr 2005 Aug;59(Suppl 1):S179-S186. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Hamel LM, Robbins LB. Computer- and web-based interventions to promote healthy eating among children and adolescents: a systematic review. J Adv Nurs 2013 Jan;69(1):16-30. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Laranjo L, Arguel A, Neves AL, Gallagher AM, Kaplan R, Mortimer N, et al. The influence of social networking sites on health behavior change: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Med Inform Assoc 2015 Jan;22(1):243-256. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Wing RR. Cross-cutting themes in maintenance of behavior change. Health Psychol 2000 Jan;19(1S):84-88. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- House of Lords. Parliament of the United Kingdom. Science and Technology Committee-Second Report URL: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201012/ldselect/ldsctech/179/17902.htm [accessed 2017-02-24] [WebCite Cache]
- Glasgow RE. eHealth evaluation and dissemination research. Am J Prev Med 2007 May;32(5 Suppl):S119-S126. [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Corsino L, Lin P, Batch BC, Intille S, Grambow SC, Bosworth HB, et al. Recruiting young adults into a weight loss trial: report of protocol development and recruitment results. Contemp Clin Trials 2013 Jul;35(2):1-7 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Partridge SR, Balestracci K, Wong AT, Hebden L, McGeechan K, Denney-Wilson E, et al. Effective strategies to recruit young adults into the TXT2BFiT mHealth randomized controlled trial for weight gain prevention. JMIR Res Protoc 2015;4(2):e66 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Craig P, Dieppe P, Macintyre S, Michie S, Nazareth I, Petticrew M, et al. Developing and evaluating complex interventions: the new Medical Research Council guidance. BMJ 2008;337:a1655 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
- Dijkers M. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. 2013. Introducing GRADE: a systematic approach to rating evidence in systematic reviews and to guideline development URL: http://www.mitaeroa.com/pdf/c101.pdf [accessed 2019-01-24] [WebCite Cache]
- World Health Organization. 2017. Obesity and overweight URL: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/ [WebCite Cache]
|BMI: body mass index|
|CCT: controlled clinical trial|
|CCRB: Cochrane Collaboration Risk of Bias|
|CHOICES: Choosing Healthy Options in College Environments and Settings|
|eHealth: electronic health|
|EPHPP: Effective Public Health Practice Project|
|ICT: information and communication technology|
|PA: physical activity|
|PRISMA: Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis|
|RCT: randomized controlled trial|
|SMS: short message service|
|SNS: social network site|
Edited by G Eysenbach; submitted 28.02.18; peer-reviewed by M Allman-Farinelli, L Ashton, L Brennan, S Partridge, J Graff; comments to author 30.07.18; revised version received 23.11.18; accepted 10.12.18; published 06.02.19
©Taylor Jade Willmott, Bo Pang, Sharyn Rundle-Thiele, Abi Badejo. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 06.02.2019.
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://www.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.