Role: Responsible applicant
Funded by: Swiss National Science Foundation (project number: 152290)
Funding scheme: Early Postdoc.Mobility
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.).