Psychologists from Virginia Tech's College of Science have designed a free internet health program.
Most Americans know they should eat better and be more physically active," said Richard Winett, director of the university's Center for Research in Health Behaviour.
"What most don't know is that they don't have to make drastic life changes to do it. Making just a few key changes can have big health benefits,' Dr Winett added .
Winett said many otherwise healthy adults gain about two pounds each year, so people who are normal weight at age 30 can become overweight or even obese by the time they are 50. For an ever-growing number of mid-life adults, the signs of inactivity and gradual weight gain show up as higher blood pressure, higher "bad" cholesterol, more body fat, and a condition known as pre-diabetes.
"Left alone, these symptoms can become chronic diseases, can shorten your life and can make the years you have to live less enjoyable," he said.
The health focus favoured by many scientists now is what is called "weight stabilization," which includes making selective changes in eating and adding more physical activity. But while the needed changes are small, they are often difficult to make and stick with.
"To make these critical changes in nutrition and physical activity, most people need to develop skills and have support over a long period of time," Winett said. "In fact, probably the best way to make these changes is to have your own personal program and coach. Fortunately, there are now ways to provide a personal program to many people through technology and the Internet."
The program aims to help people make healthy changes a permanent lifestyle. The program is designed to see how well a state-of-the-art Internet program helps people reach this goal and improve their health.
"There are quite a number of Internet health programs available but few have all the features of the program we have developed, and few have been really tested to see how well they work over the long-term," Winett said.
The program is for participants in the 18-64 age group, who are not physically active, and have access to the Internet.
After qualifying, completing initial assessments, and enrolling in the program, participants will receive a free pedometer and scale.
Individuals will then access the "Guide-to-Health" program online every week for 18 months. Weekly online coaching will take about 10-20 minutes. Two additional assessments will be given during the project