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The Health Benefits Of (E-mail) Spam

Spam is not just a mysterious lunch meat anymore. As part of a larger Canadian exercise and health study, researchers at the University of Alberta sent weekly e-mail reminders to volunteers at five large workplaces over a 12-week period. Of the nearly 2,600 workers, those who were "spammed" with weekly health promotion e-mails in their inbox increased their physical activity and were more willing to make changes in their eating habits when compared to the control group who did not receive these messages.

The intervention group actually reduced – although marginally – its mean body mass index (BMI). In contrast, the mean BMI for the control group slightly increased.

Emphasizing the unobtrusiveness, cost-effectiveness and practical appeal of e-mail messages, researchers felt that "e-mail deliveries of health promotion messages can have small, yet beneficial, effects on health behaviors over a short time frame." Writing in the current issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, the researchers added that more aesthetically pleasing e-mails, used more frequently, could be more persuasive than the plain text messages used in the study.

So how does a busy wellness manager generate "aesthetically pleasing" e-mails? Increasing numbers of nonprofit organizations provide free fact sheets on their Web sites. For instance, Healthsmart, a service of the National Business Coalition on Health, developed a series of 11 messages with text and hyperlinks on stroke prevention designed specifically for e-mail use.

Companies that offer commercially developed wellness content often have CD-ROM options. As long as copyright guidelines are adhered to, these products can often be attached, or included directly, into an e-mail. Parlay International actually licenses the user and allows them to distribute their content and graphics within the licensee’s company in any way they wish (Note: Parlay asks that e-mail recipients not reproduce the content or graphics and distribute to other users).

A variation on the e-mail health tip concept is to develop wellness brainteasers or puzzles and send them out as e-mail attachments. Consider sending out specially designed crossword puzzles as a promotion strategy prior to upcoming programs or seminars.

Choose the words and related definitions based on the content of the program. Commercial crossword puzzle software is extremely inexpensive. Once you decide the words that go in the puzzle, the software develops the resulting puzzle. Depending on your budget, prizes could be offered to those who submit the correct answers (which would provide an incentive for employees to not only attend the program, but pay close attention).

Addresses: University of Alberta, 114 St - 89 Ave., Edmonton Alberta, Canada T6G 2E1; (780) 492-3111, American Journal of Health Promotion, 4301 Orchard Lake Road #160-201, W. Bloomfield, MI 48323; (248) 682-0707, Healthsmart/National Coalition on Health, 1015 18th Street NW, Suite 730, Washington DC, 20036; (202) 775-9300, Parlay International, 712 Bancroft Rd #505, Walnut Creek, CA 94598; (800) 457-2752,

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