The University of Southern Californiaâ€™s Institute for Communication Technology Management (CTM) and the USC Center for Body Computing (CBC) released results on Friday from their study on the impact of social community support and online applications on health habits.
Focusing on smoking cessation, the researchers surveyed 266 users of the LIVESTRONG.COMâ€™s â€œMyQuit Coachâ„¢,â€ a mobile application that allows users to work toward their cessation goal with the help of a tracking system and supportive online community. Developed with help of the USC Center for Body Computing, which researches and develops wireless health solutions, this app combined several methods with the intent of developing a successful smoking cessation program to help those with significant smoking habits.
Some of the 266 users (aged 31-50) used the â€œMyQuit Coachâ€ alone, while others used it in conjunction with acupuncture, nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medication, and other methods. Reviewed by smoking cessation specialist Dr. Jonathan Foulds, internist Dr. Leslie Saxon, nicotine addiction specialist Dr. Dorothy Hatsukami, and psychologist Dr. Belisa Vranich, â€œMyQuit Coachâ€ allows users to personalize their cessation plan â€“ they can choose to quit smoking right away or gradually decrease their daily nicotine intake. In addition, the social support circle and ability to update to Facebook and Twitter facilitate the community aspect.
This community support aspect was quite beneficial, according to the study results â€“ over twice as many users who succeeded at quitting found benefits from being part of a focused social network, including the instant access and interaction with like-minded community members. More than 80% of the successful users â€œreceived continuous positive feedbackâ€ and found the community to â€œalways (be) there when they needed it.â€ That ability to immediately and continually track cigarette consumption, combined with the encouragement successful quitters received showed a strong correlation with smoking cessation.
According to Lucy Hood, the executive director of CTM, â€œThe results of this survey indicate that there may be an online community effect that can enhance peopleâ€™s ability to quit smoking. Other online social networking programs may prove to be an inexpensive yet effective addition to smoking cessation treatment options, and we plan further study.â€
Since so many people now spend so much time on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+, this initial study shows great promise for helping people quit negative behaviors and habits. Dr. Leslie Saxon, who is also the executive director of the USB CBC and the chief of cardiovascular medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine stated, â€œSuccessfully ending an addiction to smoking is a complex interplay between personal and social influences. We found that social networks can be more effective than a yearly chest X-ray and a stern warning to change negative behaviors.â€
The implications are profound â€“ if having a supportive online community can create positive healthy behaviors, we could soon see similar apps for other cessation programs, such as prescription drug, illegal drug, and alcohol abuse, and other unhealthy behaviors such as overeating.
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