Background: Effective interventions are needed to reduce the chronic disease epidemic. The Internet has the potential to provide large populations with individual advice at relatively low cost.
Objective: The focus of the study was the Web-based tailored physical activity intervention Active-online. The main research questions were (1) How effective is Active-online, compared to a nontailored website, in increasing self-reported and objectively measured physical activity levels in the general population when delivered in a real-life setting? (2) Do respondents recruited for the randomized study differ from spontaneous users of Active-online, and how does effectiveness differ between these groups? (3) What is the impact of frequency and duration of use of Active-online on changes in physical activity behavior?
Methods: Volunteers recruited via different media channels completed a Web-based baseline survey and were randomized to Active-online (intervention group) or a nontailored website (control group). In addition, spontaneous users were recruited directly from the Active-online website. In a subgroup of participants, physical activity was measured objectively using accelerometers. Follow-up assessments took place 6 weeks (FU1), 6 months (FU2), and 13 months (FU3) after baseline.
Results: A total of 1531 respondents completed the baseline questionnaire (intervention group n = 681, control group n = 688, spontaneous users n = 162); 133 individuals had valid accelerometer data at baseline. Mean age of the total sample was 43.7 years, and 1146 (74.9%) were women. Mixed linear models (adjusted for sex, age, BMI category, and stage of change) showed a significant increase in self-reported mean minutes spent in moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity from baseline to FU1 (coefficient = 0.14, P = .001) and to FU3 (coefficient = 0.19, P < .001) in all participants with no significant differences between groups. A significant increase in the proportion of individuals meeting the HEPA recommendations (self-reported) was observed in all participants between baseline and FU3 (OR = 1.47, P = .03), with a higher increase in spontaneous users compared to the randomized groups (interaction between FU3 and spontaneous users, OR = 2.95, P = .02). There were no increases in physical activity over time in any group for objectively measured physical activity. A significant relation was found between time spent on the tailored intervention and changes in self-reported physical activity between baseline and FU3 (coefficient = 1.13, P = .03, intervention group and spontaneous users combined). However, this association was no longer significant when adjusting for stage of change.
Conclusions: In a real-life setting, Active-online was not more effective than a nontailored website in increasing physical activity levels in volunteers from the general population. Further research may investigate ways of integrating Web-based physical activity interventions in a wider context, for example, primary care or workplace health promotion.