Healthy Body Healthy You Study

Starting in March 2015, the Health Body Healthy U (HBHU) study launched at the Milken Institute School of Public Health and its partner site, University of Massachusetts, Boston. The purpose is to study the effects of Facebook and text messages on body weight over an 18-month period.

HBHU is a five-year study sponsored by the National Institute for Health (NIH). The study lead is Melissa Napolitano, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Prevention and Community Health. The rest of the research team includes research coordinator Meghan Mavredes and hourly research assistants Erika Blankenship, Rachel Ingersoll, Mary Moran, Nicholas Ryan, and Benjamin Shambon.

Participants in HBHU are assigned randomly to one of three groups. The first group is focused on weight loss and receives personalized text messages and Facebook posts. The second group is also centered on weight loss, but gets general texts and Facebook posts. The final group receives text messages and Facebook posts about the three pillars of health (mind, body, and energy)—all important for having a healthy body weight.

All program information is delivered online, except the checkpoints to assess bodyweight as well as cardiometabolic risk factors among young adults ages 18-35. This study is focused on ages 18 to 35 because young adulthood is a high-risk period for weight gain. In order to participate, one must be 10-75 pounds overweight and inclined to make a lifestyle change.

Mavredes, an SPH alum specializing in Maternal and Child Health, said her degree helped her because she now understands why such health behavior occurs. With her role with HBHU she appreciates seeing, “The inner workings of a research study.”

Working on this study has been a cornerstone experience for the research team. Ingersoll likes how she is able to learn about a lot of different aspects of health and apply what she has been learning in class. Moran did research as an undergraduate student, but definitely appreciates “having more responsibility” now.

Mavredes spoke about how this has been a “Good opportunity to help people in a different way...Research doesn’t pigeonhole you.” She is involved in many facets of the study as she handles day-to-day operations, screening processes, in-person checkpoint visits, follow-up visits, and much other administrative behind-the-scenes work.

The group will not look at the data until the end of the five-year period in order to avoid researcher bias. There is no placebo, so everyone receives something for completing the year and a half program. Between D.C. and Boston there are 238 current participants with a target of 450 by the end.  Study recruitment will be ongoing through the end of 2017.  Anyone interested in HBHU can visit

Each member of the team brings a different public health perspective to the study based on his/her field of interest and expertise. From clinical work to nutrition to data collection to social media outreach, the HBHU team exemplifies the diversity of public health and the growing sectors within it.  Ingersoll summed it up, reflecting that her coursework provides her with a foundation for understanding how programs are developed and delivered, as well as the importance of evaluation.  She spoke about how, “It’s nice to see a real-world application of the information we are learning in class” and how that connects with making a difference and improving health outcomes for others.