May 29, 2012 By Dr. Marla Shapiro
Obesity remains an ongoing discussion and finding novel ways to support permanent changes in lifestyle are the subject of a study out of Northwestern Medicine published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It found that simply changing one bad habit has a domino effect on others.
According to the study, by simply knocking down your sedentary leisure time, you’ll reduce junk food and saturated fats because you’re no longer glued to the TV and mindlessly grazing. It’s a two-for-one benefit because the behaviors are closely related.
The study also found the most effective way to rehab a delinquent lifestyle requires two key behavior changes: cutting time spent in front of a TV or computer screen and eating more fruits and vegetables. With this simplified strategy, people are capable of making big lifestyle changes in a short period of time and maintaining them, according to the study.
The study randomly assigned 204 adult patients, ages 21 to 60 years old, with all those unhealthy habits into one of four treatments. The treatments were:
increase fruit/vegetable intake and physical activity
decrease fat and sedentary leisure
decrease fat and increase physical activity
increase fruit/vegetable intake and decrease sedentary leisure
During the three weeks of treatment, patients entered their daily data into a personal digital assistant and uploaded it to a coach who communicated as needed by telephone or email.
Participants could also earn $175 for meeting goals during the three-week treatment phase but when that phase was completed, patients no longer had to maintain the lifestyle changes in order to be paid. They were simply asked to send data three days a month for six months and received $30 to $80 per month. It is not unusual to offer a financial incentive as a way of asking patients to enter a study.
From baseline to the end of treatment to the end of the six-month follow-up, the average servings of fruit/vegetables changed from 1.2 to 5.5 to 2.9; average minutes per day of sedentary leisure went from 219.2 to 89.3 to 125.7 and daily calories from saturated fat from 12 percent to 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent.
About 86 percent of participants said once they made the change, they tried to maintain it. There was something about increasing fruits and vegetables that made them feel like they were capable of any of these changes according to the study authors.
Of all three treatment approaches the more traditional approach to dieting — decrease fat and increase physical activity — improved the least. Targeting fruits/vegetables and sedentary leisure together seemed to most maximize overall adoption!