College of Science researchers suggest road to better health just a mouse click away

BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 8, 2007 – Psychologists in Virginia Tech's College of Science have developed a free Internet health program that helps people make permanent lifestyle changes to improve their health.

“Most Americans know they should eat better and be more physically active,” said Richard Winett, director of the university’s Center for Research in Health Behavior. “What most don’t know is that they don’t have to make drastic life changes to do it. Making just a few key changes can have big health benefits.”

The new program, called "Guide-to-Health" provides the skills, support and information people need to increase physical activity, eat more nutritiously, and prevent weight gain. The program is based on National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported research conducted by Winett and his team on women and men from diverse backgrounds.

Winett said many otherwise healthy adults gain about two pounds each year, so people who are normal weight at age 30 can become overweight or even obese by the time they are 50. For an ever-growing number of mid-life adults, the signs of inactivity and gradual weight gain show up as higher blood pressure, higher “bad” cholesterol, more body fat, and a condition known as pre-diabetes.

“Left alone, these symptoms can become chronic diseases, can shorten your life and can make the years you have to live less enjoyable,” he said.

The health focus favored by many scientists now is what is called “weight stabilization,” which includes making selective changes in eating and adding more physical activity. But while the needed changes are small, they are often difficult to make and stick with.

“To make these critical changes in nutrition and physical activity, most people need to develop skills and have support over a long period of time,” Winett said. “In fact, probably the best way to make these changes is to have your own personal program and coach. Fortunately, there are now ways to provide a personal program to many people through technology and the Internet.”

The goal of the “Guide-to-Health” program is the help people make healthy changes a permanent lifestyle. The program is designed to see how well a state-of-the-art Internet program helps people reach this goal and improve their health.

“There are quite a number of Internet health programs available but few have all the features of the program we have developed, and few have been really tested to see how well they work over the long-term,” Winett said.

“Guide-to-Health” is a free program. Participants must be 18-64 years of age, not physically active, and have access to the Internet. After qualifying, completing initial assessments, and enrolling in the program, participants will receive a free pedometer and scale. Individuals will then access the “Guide-to-Health” program online every week for 18 months. Weekly online coaching will take about 10-20 minutes. Two additional assessments will be given during the project.

To learn more about the “Guide-to-Health’ program, or to register, visit thet website.

The College of Science at Virginia Tech gives students a comprehensive foundation in the scientific method. Outstanding faculty members teach courses and conduct research in biology, chemistry, economics, geosciences, mathematics, physics, psychology, and statistics. The college is dedicated to fostering a research intensive environment and offers programs in many cutting edge areas, including those in nanotechnology, biological sciences, information theory and science, and supports the university’s research initiatives through the Institute for Critical Technologies and Applied Sciences, and the Institute for Biomedical and Public Health Sciences. The College of Science also houses programs in intellectual property law and pre-medicine.