Fitness facility operators may want to start picking up the phone to motivate their members or potential members. Telephone outreach encouraging physical activity and healthier eating is effective, according to a recent review of past studies on these methods of outreach, but more research is needed to see if this type of intervention is as effective as other methods or is cost effective.

A report in the January 2012 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that 20 of the 27 comparisons in 25 studies (which included results from 11,174 people) that the authors reviewed showed that telephone calls did help initiate behavior change. Sixteen of the studies related to physical activity, two to diet and seven to physical activity and diet.

Twenty of the 27 comparisons showed that phone interventions help improve physical activity and/or dietary behavior in at least 50 percent of cases. In 10 of the 25 studies that evaluated how well individuals maintained their behavior change after the phone calls ended, three reported that at least 50 percent were able to maintain the change after the interventions ended.

The longer the phone calls went on, the more effective the outcome, according to the review. Seven of 12 studies of short-duration intervention (up to five months) showed an increase in physical activity or diet change. Twenty-two of 40 studies involving medium-duration intervention (six to 11 months) showed improvement. Thirty-seven of 50 longer-duration interventions (12 months or longer) showed improvement.

The authors— Ana D. Goode, Marina M. Reeves and Elizabeth G. Eakin of the University of Queensland, Australia—concluded that enough studies have been done to support the idea that telephone interventions promote people to change their physical activity and diet. They recommended further research on how to integrate this method into existing systems, as well as research on how well people maintain their change after the end of the intervention and how to improve maintenance in a cost-effective manner.

In addition, the authors recommended more research on the cost of telephone intervention, resources required, training required and support needed from management. They also recommended comparison on the effectiveness of telephone intervention to other methods of intervention, including print and Internet programs.