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Title: Persuasive digital health technologies for lifestyle behaviour change
Author: Whelan, Maxine E.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7225 0519
Awarding Body: Loughborough University
Current Institution: Loughborough University
Date of Award: 2018
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BACKGROUND. Unhealthy lifestyle behaviours such as physical inactivity are global risk factors for chronic disease. Despite this, a substantial proportion of the UK population fail to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity. This may partly be because the health messages presently disseminated are not sufficiently potent to evoke behaviour change. There has been an exponential growth in the availability of digital health technologies within the consumer marketplace. This influx of technology has allowed people to self-monitor a plethora of health indices, such as their physical activity, in real-time. However, changing movement behaviours is difficult and often predicated on the assumption that individuals are willing to change their lifestyles today to reduce the risk of developing disease years or even decades later. One approach that may help overcome this challenge is to present physiological feedback in parallel with physical activity feedback. In combination, this approach may help people to observe the acute health benefits of being more physically active and subsequently translate that insight into a more physically active lifestyle. AIMS. Study One aimed to review existing studies employing fMRI to examine neurological responses to health messages pertaining to physical activity, sedentary behaviour, smoking, diet and alcohol consumption to assess the capacity for fMRI to assist in evaluating health behaviours. Study Two aimed to use fMRI to evaluate physical activity, sedentary behaviour and glucose feedback obtained through wearable digital health technologies and to explore associations between activated brain regions and subsequent changes in behaviour. Study Three aimed to explore engagement of people at risk of type 2 diabetes using digital health technologies to monitor physical activity and glucose levels. METHODS. Study One was a systematic review of published studies investigating health messages relating to physical activity, sedentary behaviour, diet, smoking or alcohol consumption using fMRI. Study Two asked adults aged 30-60 years to undergo fMRI whilst presented personalised feedback on their physical activity, sedentary behaviour and glucose levels, following a 14-day wear protocol of an accelerometer, inclinometer and flash glucose monitor. Study Three was a six-week, three-armed randomised feasibility trial for individuals at moderate-to-high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The study used commercially available wearable physical activity (Fitbit Charge 2) and flash glucose (Freestyle Libre) technologies. Group 1 were offered glucose feedback for 4 weeks followed by glucose plus physical activity feedback for 2 weeks (G4GPA2). Group 2 were offered physical activity feedback for 4 weeks followed by glucose plus physical activity feedback for 2 weeks (PA4GPA2). Group 3 were offered glucose plus physical activity feedback for six weeks (GPA6). The primary outcome for the study was engagement, measured objectively by time spent on the Fitbit app, LibreLink app (companion app for the Freestyle Libre) as well as the frequency of scanning the Freestyle Libre and syncing the Fitbit. RESULTS. For Study One, 18 studies were included in the systematic review and of those, 15 examined neurological responses to smoking related health messages. The remaining three studies examined health messages about diet (k=2) and physical activity (k=1). Areas of the prefrontal cortex and amygdala were most commonly activated with increased activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex predicting subsequent behaviour (e.g. smoking cessation). Study Two identified that presenting people with personalised feedback relating to interstitial glucose levels resulted in significantly more brain activation when compared with feedback on personalised movement behaviours (P < .001). Activations within regions of the prefrontal cortex were significantly greater for glucose feedback compared with feedback on personalised movement behaviours. Activation in the subgyral area was correlated with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at follow-up (r=.392, P=.043). In Study Three, time spent on the LibreLink app significantly reduced for G4GPA2 and GPA6 (week 1: 20.2±20 versus week 6: 9.4±14.6min/day, p=.007) and significantly fewer glucose scans were recorded (week 1: 9.2±5.1 versus week 6: 5.9±3.4 scans/day, p=.016). Similarly, Fitbit app usage significantly reduced (week 1: 7.1±3.8 versus week 6: 3.8±2.9min/day p=.003). The number of Fitbit syncs did not change significantly (week 1: 6.9±7.8 versus week 6: 6.5±10.2 syncs/day, p=.752). CONCLUSIONS. Study One highlighted the fact that thus far the field has focused on examining neurological responses to health messages using fMRI for smoking with important knowledge gaps in the neurological evaluation of health messages for other lifestyle behaviours. The prefrontal cortex and amygdala were most commonly activated in response to health messages. Using fMRI, Study Two was able to contribute to the knowledge gaps identified in Study One, with personalised glucose feedback resulting in a greater neurological response than personalised feedback on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. From this, Study Three found that individuals at risk of developing type 2 diabetes were able to engage with digital health technologies offering real-time feedback on behaviour and physiology, with engagement diminishing over time. Overall, this thesis demonstrates the potential for digital health technologies to play a key role in feedback paradigms relating to chronic disease prevention.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Physical activity ; Sedentary behaviour ; Chronic disease ; Prevention ; Wearable technologies ; Digital health ; Lifestyle behaviour change