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Devices to monitor personal health: an opportunity for student research

fitbit ice cream beach me 2

Taunting my Fitbit

Inspired by David Sedaris’ tale in The New Yorker (he cheerfully combines healthy exercise with compulsive litter picking) I decided to invest in a Fitbit. This neat little wrist band has the facility to record the number of steps you take in any given day, as well as monitoring some aspects of sleep duration and quality.

Many people now use Fitbits to monitor their health, and use the companion website (and various apps and add-ons) to record dietary, drinking and other health behaviours. An Apple device that promises to record the same data and more is due out in spring 2015.

Health psychology trainees starting this autumn are well placed to design studies exploring the impact of Fitbit and other personal health monitoring devices. US users can already sign up to earn material rewards for their physical activity. If the same incentives were introduced in the UK, how effective might they be in motivating behaviour change? 

The Fitbit can only record a limited range of data at present, and users have to enter honestly any deviations from their planned dietary schedule.  If the Fitbit doesn’t know, do the calories still count 😉 ?

Carol P

 

Using apps in health psychology – meeting 21st November

Coventry University’s Health Psychology local interest group is hosting a guest talk and discussion on the use of (smartphone/tablet/web) apps in Health Psychology. This will include a presentation from Kristina Curtis about the development of her app for childhood obesity as well as a discussion of some of the key benefits and challenges to using apps.

This will be on 21st November at lunchtime (exact time and location to be confirmed shortly).

The meeting is being organised by Dr Naomi Bartle under the auspices of the Midlands Health Psychology Network Local Interest Group (MHPNLIG!)

Watch the eyes: Health psychology and machines that go ‘ping’

Eyetracker1

Think of psychological research and the image that comes to mind might be completing a questionnaire, looking at some inkblots or perhaps participating in a bizarre social experiment.  Psychological research methodologies encompass a much wider range of techniques and approaches. Some may seem deceptively low tech – such as focus groups and individual interviews, diaries and participant observations. However, health psychologists increasingly draw on information technology, social media and sophisticated electronic devices to conduct their research and put their theories into practice.

In the past year alone, students on the MSc health psychology did independent and collaborative research using interviews/focus groups to explore a range of topics including

  • The attitudes of healthcare staff to providing positive birth experiences
  • Academic midwifery perspectives on teaching about maternal obesity
  • The experience of early stage dementia sufferers and their partners
  • Barriers and facilitators to health promotion for South Asian people
  • Young women’s beliefs about long-acting reversible contraception
  • Service users and providers’ perspectives on stress management through vocational rehabilitation in schizophrenia
  • South Asian fathers’ perspectives on childhood obesity

Previous students have used online surveys and studies of internet discussion forums to explore the experiences of patients and their families, for example, what it is like to be an elderly person whose adult son or daughter becomes increasingly disabled by multiple sclerosis.

Some of our outgoing MSc health psych students also designed a smart phone app to improve self management for adolescent boys with type 1 diabetes. An important consideration was that the app should work on the latest and most desirable mobile handset.

We already have close links with staff in the University’s Applied Research Centre in Health & Lifestyle Interventions, where numerous projects have harnessed technology to address issues as diverse as breastfeeding and adolescent sexual health. For 2013/14 we are hoping to work more closely with the university’s Health Design & Technology Institute and Serious Games Institute, with a view to realising some of the products our MSc students have designed.

Meanwhile we’ve welcomed a new piece of kit to Psychology & Behavioural Sciences in the form of an advanced eye tracker. There is a lot of scope for staff and postgraduate research using this facility.  Being able to trace and record accurately where a person’s eyes are roaming is an excellent adjunct to more traditional research methods.  For example, we can ask research participants whether they attend to nutritional information that’s presented on food labels or restaurant menus. Now we’ll be able to check what they actually look at and for how long. We might also be able to find out how people really navigate through health information websites, interact with health behaviour change apps and so on. Just need to check if the machine that makes all of this possible really does go ‘ping’.

Small print: This isn’t our actual machine – it is too fresh out of the packaging to be cornered for a photograph. Pic courtesy of wiki commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eyetracker1.jpg