Research

Marco Bardus’ research is in the field of health communication, a discipline within communication studies, at the crossroads of behavioural sciences, medical and health sciences, and public health. The overarching goal of his research is to understand how healthy behaviours can be influenced through the use of technology-based interventions and persuasive communication strategies.

In line with Healthy People 2020 objectives, the fundamental goal of Marco’s research in health communication is to address health-related and social issues in order to improve people’s health and wellbeing, reduce disease burden and health inequalities, promoting the principles of sustainability.

Marco’s research in health communication focuses on eHealth and mHealth applications for health behaviour change and health promotion. His research interests revolve around the use of smartphones (text message reminders, mobile apps), Web 2.0 technology, and wearable devices, with the overall goal of preventing noncommunicable diseases and obesity-related issues.

His research has both practical and theoretical applications. Practical implications pertain to public health, as this research can inform the development of policies and programmes for behaviour change. Theoretical implications can be applied to communication and media research and in behavioural sciences. Knowing what behaviour change strategies work best may allow enhancing the theoretical foundations of health behaviour change models and theories.

Research interests

  • Smartphone apps and Social Media for health promotion
  • Effectiveness of eHealth and mHealth behavioural interventions
  • Testing theories and models in health communication
  • Intention-behaviour gap
  • Uses & Gratifications of eHealth technologies
  • Media effects on health behaviours

Research projects as principal investigator

  • Can commercial mobile apps for weight management be used in interventions? Bridging the gap between usability, theoretical adherence, and user experience

    Start/End: 1/7/2016-30/6/2017

    Role: Principal Investigator

    Funded by: University Review Board (URB), American University of Beirut

    Abstract

    This project aims to assess the quality (i.e. aesthetics, engagement, functionality, and information quality) of a previously identified set of 6 commercial apps for weight management, from a broad, user-centered point of view. A user-centered heuristic evaluation will be used to examine the perceived quality and usability of these apps, and identify the apps that have the best characteristics for supporting behavior change.

  • Efficacy, effectiveness, and impact of eHealth technologies for weight management

    Start/End: 1/6/2016-30/5/2017

    Role: Principal Investigator

    Funded by: American University of Beirut Startup Fund (Faculty of Health Sciences)

    Abstract

    Background: There is an urgent need to identify effective strategies to prevent noncommunicable diseases on a global scale. Mobile apps and social media are considered appealing solutions for health promotion as they can reach captive segments of the population. Despite some evidence of effectiveness, little is known about how these technologies influence behaviors and health outcomes, and what components make interventions more effective.
    Objectives and methods: This study aims to examine how effectiveness varies in modern eHealth interventions when different delivery modes and behavior change techniques are used. This study also aims to improve the understanding of eHealth research by developing guidelines and standards for review reporting. Meta-regression techniques will be used to model the relationships between change techniques, delivery modes, and health outcomes. A consensus-seeking Delphi study will be conducted to develop a statement for accurately reporting eHealth research.
    Expected impact: This study will generate evidence and guidance supporting the specification of messages and channels for promoting health behaviours in the domain of weight management, globally and in the Arab world. This will generate clearer recommendations for public health professionals and eHealth researchers for segmenting target audiences, identifying tailored and personalized intervention strategies to enhance effectiveness

  • Investigating the use of smartphone and Web 2.0 technologies used in behavioural interventions for weight management

    Start/End: 1/5/2014-30/10/2015

    Role: Responsible applicant

    Funded by: Swiss National Science Foundation (project number: 152290)

    Funding scheme: Early Postdoc.Mobility

    Abstract

    Background: E-health and m-health technologies, including smartphone and Internet applications, offer appealing interventions to address major and compelling public health issues such as obesity and physical inactivity, because they have the potential to reach large segments of the population at low cost. In the last 15 years, research into e-health and m-health has increased, and some evidence of effectiveness has been reported in an increasing number of systematic reviews and studies on Web- and mobile phone-based interventions. Recent advances in Web and in mobile phone technologies, which brought smartphones and Web 2.0 apps to millions of end-users, offer new possibilities for the development of interventions that are more personalised, customised and tailored to users’ preferences and characteristics. It is unclear, however, whether these advanced capacities can be translated into effective interventions. E-health interventions are often regarded as “black boxes”, as if the Internet or mobile phones per se exerted effects on the users. Little work has been done in identifying contents, techniques, or delivery modes, which enhance the effectiveness of such interventions. Indeed there has been little work on categorising e-health intervention components, such as behaviour change techniques (BCTs) employed (e.g., goal setting, self-monitoring, feedback provision, etc.), tools and delivery modes used (e.g., automated text messages or emails providing advices and challenges, displaying data allowing comparisons among users, interactive discussion boards, etc.), and particular media utilised (i.e., smartphone app, email, website, social networking site). Understanding which interventions components are associated with positive (or negative) effects is fundamental in developing effective interventions for particular target audiences.

    Objectives: The proposed project will investigate the potential of smartphone and Web 2.0-based behavioural interventions for weight management (through change in dietary and physical activity behaviours) by “decomposing” existing interventions and identifying which components are associated with effectiveness for which audiences. This research has two objectives: 1) to review the literature to examine the effects of smartphone- and Web 2.0-based interventions for weight management; 2) to examine smartphone and Web 2.0 apps to identify which features attract initial use and facilitate longer term, maintained use, and which components are associated with effectiveness.

    Methods: The first objective will be pursued through a systematic review of the literature (and a meta-analysis, if data allow). The systematic review will allow identifying the most effective BCTs and associated effective smartphones and Web 2.0 features. The second objective will be investigated through a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods: first, the existing commercial smartphone apps for weight management will be identified and reviewed according to the results of the systematic review and using the taxonomies of BCTs as framework. The applications best matching the criteria will be used in a user-experience testing, conducted in workplace settings. The overall objective is to identify the preferred and effective features or components of smartphone and Web 2.0 apps that may encourage prolonged use and facilitate behaviour change in weight management e-health interventions, hence increasing their impact and population health potential.

    Expected impact: The work will highlight how effective smartphone apps as stand-alone interventions and as adjunct elements to other interventions designed to increase physical activity and change dietary behaviour patterns as well as how effective such apps are at prompting weight loss and weight maintenance. The research will also identify characteristics and features of apps, which users like and which appear to be associated with effectiveness. In addition, the research will seek to identify the change processes underpinning effective use of such apps, that is, which techniques (e.g., providing feedback, promoting goal setting, etc.), tools, and delivery modes are associated with effectiveness (e.g., text messaging, visual feedback, social comparison leagues, user interaction, etc.).

  • Physical Activity Communication in the Workplace: A Test of the Theory of Planned Behavior and Persuasive Communication Strategies

    Start/End: 1/1/2011 - 30/6/2011

    Role: Responsible applicant

    Funded by: Swiss National Science Foundation (project number: 135856)

    Funding scheme: Fellowships for prospective researchers

    Abstract

    Physical inactivity is one of the leading health risk factors for Europeans. Key government policies advocate promoting physical activity in the workplace as it is associated with 27% fewer sick days. In response to governmental guidelines and policies, we developed the MoveM8 programme, an e-mail and text messages (SMS) physical activity intervention based on the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB).

    The aim of the MoveM8 study is to test the use of persuasive communication strategies in physical activity promotion through e-mail and SMS. E-mails and text messages for health communication have been used in recent studies showing positive effects on the desired behavior. However, there is limited evidence on the role of SMS reminders supplementing e-mail communication on physical activity behavior change in a workplace setting.

    Thus, we examine the role of additional SMS reminders to an e-mail based intervention on physical activity behavior and other TPB constructs (attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control, intention). A second aim of the research is to conduct a program evaluation following the guidelines of the RE-AIM framework. To achieve these aims we will compare quantitative data collected from participants at baseline and 4 follow-up assessments (after 1, 2, 3 and 6 months from the start of the intervention) and examine qualitative data from participants and non-participants of the participating organizations.

Research projects as collaborator

  • Diabetes in Ticino: Measuring the determinants of physical activity behavior for people living with Type 2 diabetes

    Start/End: 10/2011 - 12/2012

    Role: Collaborator

    Abstract

    Purpose: To explore the demographic, health-related and socio-cognitive determinants of physical activity among people living with Type 2 Diabetes residing in Ticino, and to test the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) as model predicting physical activity.

    Methods: Cognitive interviews (think-aloud method); Cross-sectional survey.

    Further information: BeCHANGE website

  • Tailoring Physical activity communication: A test of the theory of planned behavior and persuasive communication strategies

    Start/End: 1/11/2008 - 1/11/2009

    Role: Project manager and collaborator

    Funded by: USI R&D Foundation

    Abstract

    The purpose of this study is to test the Theory of Planned Behavior and persuasive communication strategies in health communication designed to increase physical activity levels among a worksite population.

    Further information: USI Website, BeCHANGE website

Other projects

  • EPICUR II – Expanding Public Interest by Communicating Understandable Research: Marketing of the EJO as a Dissemination Network

    Start/End: 1/4/2013-31/3/2015 (Member of staff)

    Role: Member of Staff

    Funded by: Swiss National Science Foundation (project number: 145651)

    Funding scheme: Agora

    Abstract

    This AGORA proposal will extend and strengthen EJO’s network of cooperating research institutions, journalism training facilities and newsrooms in the German speaking part of Switzerland, improve the English EJO platform which is needed for joint dissemination efforts (in coopertion with the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford) and make the project more visible by a strong effort in social media marketing. In particular, we will focus on the dissemination of communications and journalism research from Switzerland and in Switzerland, also across the language barriers in the country, and try to mobilize the younger communications researchers to participate actively in dissemination efforts and to train their communication and reporting skills in dealing with the media.

  • USI SINC - Università della Svizzera italiana Sustainability Incubator

    Start/End: 1/6/2013-31/12/2016 (Co-applicant)

    Role: Co-applicant

    Funded by: Swiss Academy of Arts & Sciences

    Funding scheme: Sustainable Development at Universites Programme

    Abstract

    USI SINC (Università della Svizzera italiana Sustainability Incubator) is an incubator that facilitates the development, implementation and evaluation of sustainability projects at the Università della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano. The overarching goal of the incubator is to provide a structured and dedicated space for mentoring and coaching students working on sustainability projects at the university and in the community. The incubator serves as a complement to the existing Master’s level class on social marketing; an interdisciplinary course taught by Professor Suggs each autumn. The class teaches students about creating social change initiatives and innovations that utilise effective behaviour change communication and are based on a comprehensive understanding of the problem. The incubator will enable students to realise the projects, moving from conceptual ideas to practical work, while collaborating with partners from the Università della Svizzera italiana and the community. Additionally, students will be mentored on entrepreneurial skills, supporting potential economic and environmental opportunities in spin-off projects and businesses. Finally, USI SINC will also serve as a resource for research evidence through disseminating data collected about sustainability projects and policies.