Ask a female smoker why she hasn’t quit and she’ll most likely to tell you it’s because she doesn’t want to ‘put on weight’. Issues with weight gain are among the most common reasons why a lot of people, especially women, don’t quit smoking. Fortunately, there are several ways to counter this problem. And according to new research, one effective way is to use a mobile app.
Researchers from the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine have joined forces to develop a mobile application that will help women quit smoking, and at the same time, learn to eat more healthfully and increase their physical activity.
While trying to quit smoking while changing eating habits and getting more exercise sounds like a lot to take on at once, “all these behaviors are interrelated,” Gordon explained. “So if you change all of the behaviors together, you get a synergy that allows all this change to happen.” says Judith Gordon, Ph.D., the lead researcher.
The two-phase study will create and test an Android app, developed by a multidisciplinary team that includes Gordon, Melanie Hingle, Ph.D., from the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Thienne Johnson, Ph.D., from the UA departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science, and Peter Giacobbi, Ph.D., from the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences at West Virginia University. Jim Cunningham, Ph.D., with the UA Department of Family and Community Medicine, is the project’s methodologist and statistician.
The application will include guided imagery messages designed to boost positive body image, and persuade a woman that she can and will be stronger, healthier and happier by eating well, being physically active and not smoking.
In the first phase of the study, 10 to 20 Tucson-area women who want to quit smoking but are worried about weight gain will review the app and provide feedback.
In the second phase of the study, the app will be available free on the Google Play Store, and 50 women from across the country will test the feasibility and acceptability of the app.
Furthermore, the app will have audio recordings of guided imagery scripts that women will listen to on a daily basis. The scripts will be about quitting smoking, eating nutritious foods and doing moderate physical activity every day.
Women will be able to track their mood and cravings – whether for a cigarette or a burger and fries – every day. Each guided imagery script will teach the women to expect cravings and changes in mood, and assist them to overcome these challenges.
There are hundreds of mobile apps designed to help women quit, however, they remained untested, Gordon argued.
“A couple of studies have looked at using apps for changing one behavior at a time. There have been a few studies testing in-person or Web-based smoking cessation plus physical activity, or diet, but not all three. This will be the first study not only to address all three behaviors through the use of guided imagery, but to deliver it all via a mobile app.”
Experts say that the concept is so novel and promising that even in this time of scarce federal research funding, the National Cancer Institute has awarded $365,000 for the two-year project.