Use of wearable technology and social media to improve physical activity and dietary behaviors among college students: A 12-week randomized pilot study

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College students demonstrate poor physical activity (PA) and dietary behaviors. We evaluated the feasibility of a combined smartwatch and theoretically based, social media-delivered health education intervention versus a comparison on improving college students’ health behaviors/outcomes. Thirty-eight students (28 female; Xage = 21.5 ± 3.4 years) participated in this two-arm, randomized 12-week pilot trial (2017-2018). Participants were randomized into: (a) experimental: Polar M400 use and twice-weekly social cognitive theory- and self-determination theory-based Facebook-delivered health education intervention; or (b) comparison: enrollment only in separate, but content-identical, Facebook intervention. Primary outcomes pertained to intervention feasibility. Secondary outcomes included accelerometer-estimated PA, physiological/psychosocial outcomes, and dietary behaviors. Intervention adherence was high (~86%), with a retention of 92.1%. Participants implemented health education tips 1-3 times per week. We observed experimental and comparison groups to have 4.2- and 1.6-min/day increases in moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA), respectively, at six weeks-partially maintained at 12 weeks. In both groups, similarly decreased body weight (experimental = -0.6 kg; comparison = -0.5 kg) and increased self-efficacy, social support, and intrinsic motivation were observed pre- and post-intervention. Finally, we observed small decreases in daily caloric consumption over time (experimental = -41.0 calories; comparison = -143.3). Both interventions were feasible/of interest to college students and demonstrated initial effectiveness at improving health behaviors/outcomes. However, smartwatch provision may not result in an additional benefit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3579
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: Z.C.P. was funded by the 2017–2018 University of Minnesota Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship to complete this study. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Facebook
  • Health behavior change
  • Physiological health
  • Polar M400
  • Theory


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