Get Up and Play: Motivating Physical Activity in Teens through Mobile Technology
Obesity has become highly prevalent over the past few decades, which has led to widespread health problems and has strained healthcare systems. Lack of physical activity is one of the major contributors to the obesity problem. Unhealthy habits are often formed early in life, and this has inspired our research, which proposes to improve teenagers’ attitudes towards physical activity through the use of mobile technology.
Using the hardware in modern cell phones (GPS, accelerometer, etc.) it is possible to create games that interface with the real world. For example, a game might involve following a virtual treasure map by walking around in real life, which would combine the gaming experience with exercise and outdoor activity. We developed an iPhone application for teens that recommends games involving physical activity that are compatible with the user’s personality. Gameplay is recorded so that a user can view their progress over time, and a virtual agent says motivational phrases, encouraging users to continue to play games and to be active. The design of our system is based on several theories from psychology, including the Technology Acceptance Model, the Theory of Planned Behavior, the Theory of Meaning Behavior, and the Big 5 Personality Theory.
In this summer’s pilot study, we conducted user testing with teens who tried our prototype application and provided feedback that will be used to develop a future system in a long-term study. Our goal is to create a technology that will encourage positive attitudes towards physical activity and help teens form long-term healthy lifestyles.