Nowadays people are extensively encouraged to become more physically active. The Internet has been brought forward as an effective tool to change physical activity behavior. However, little is known about the evidence regarding such Internet-based interventions.
The aim of the study was to systematically assess the methodological quality and the effectiveness of interventions designed to promote physical activity by means of the Internet as evaluated by randomized controlled trials.
A literature search was conducted up to July 2006 using the databases PubMed, Web of Science, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and Cochrane Library. Only randomized controlled trials describing the effectiveness of an Internet-based intervention, with the promotion of physical activity among adults being one of its major goals, were included. Data extracted included source and year of publication, country of origin, targeted health behaviors, participants’ characteristics, characteristics of the intervention, and effectiveness data. In addition, the methodological quality was assessed.
The literature search resulted in 10 eligible studies of which five met at least nine out of 13 general methodological criteria. The majority of the interventions were tailored to the characteristics of the participants and used interactive self-monitoring and feedback tools. Six studies used one or more theoretical models to compose the contents of the interventions. One study used an objective measure to assess the amount of physical activity (activity monitor), and six studies used multiple subjective measures of physical activity. Furthermore, half of the studies employed measures of physical fitness other than physical activity. In three studies, an Internet-based physical activity intervention was compared with a waiting list group. Of these three studies, two reported a significantly greater improvement in physical activity levels in the Internet-based intervention than in the control group. Seven studies compared two types of Internet-based physical activity interventions in which the main difference was either the intensity of contact between the participants and supervisors (4 studies) or the type of treatment procedures applied (3 studies). In one of these studies, a significant effect in favor of an intervention with more supervisor contact was seen.
There is indicative evidence that Internet-based physical activity interventions are more effective than a waiting list strategy. The added value of specific components of Internet-based physical activity interventions such as increased supervisor contact, tailored information, or theoretical fidelity remains to be established. Methodological quality as well as the type of physical activity outcome measure varied, stressing the need for standardization of these measures.