Background: The Internet is a promising medium in the field of health promotion for offering tailored and targeted lifestyle interventions applying computer-tailored (CT) techniques to the general public. Actual exposure to CT interventions is not living up to its high expectations, as only a (limited) proportion of the target group is actually using these programs.
Objective: To investigate exposure to an Internet-delivered, CT lifestyle intervention, targeting physical activity, fruit and vegetable intake, smoking behavior, and alcohol intake, we focused on three processes: first use, prolonged use, and sustained use. The first objectives were to identify user characteristics that predict initiation of an online CT lifestyle program (first use) and completion of this program (prolonged use). Furthermore, we studied the effect of using a proactive strategy, consisting of periodic email prompts, on program revisits (sustained use).
Methods: The research population for this study consisted of Dutch adults participating in the Adult Health Monitor, offered by the regional public health services. We used a randomized controlled trial design to assess predictors of first use, prolonged use, and sustained use. Demographics and behavioral characteristics, as well as the strategy used for revisiting, were included as predictors in the model.
Results: A total of 9169 participants indicated their interest in the new program and 5168 actually logged in to the program. Participants significantly more likely to initiate one of the CT modules were male, older, and employed, and had a lower income, higher body mass index, and relatively unhealthy lifestyle. Participants significantly more likely to complete one of the CT modules were older and had a higher income and a relatively healthier lifestyle. Finally, using a proactive strategy influenced sustained use, with people from the prompting condition being more likely to revisit the program (odds ratio 28.92, 95% confidence interval 10.65-78.52; P < .001).
Conclusions: Older, male, and employed participants, and those with a lower income, higher body mass index, and a relatively unhealthy lifestyle were more likely to initiate a CT module. Module completers predominantly had a higher income and age. The current program therefore succeeded in reaching those people who benefit most from online lifestyle interventions. However, these people tended to disengage from the program. This underlines the importance of additional research into program adjustments and strategies that can be used to stimulate prolonged program use. Furthermore, sending periodic email prompts significantly increased revisits to the program. Though promising, this effect was modest and needs to be further examined, in order to maximize the potential of periodic email prompting.
Trial registration: Nederlands Trial Register (NTR: 1786) and Medical Ethics Committee of Maastricht University and the University Hospital Maastricht (NL2723506809/MEC0903016); http://www.trialregister.nl/trialreg/admin/rctview.asp?TC=1786 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/65hBXA6V7).