Preventing and reducing rates of overweight and obese adolescents has become a key challenge in 21st century America, and social media technologies may be able to play a role in promoting sustained health behavior change in adolescents. To study these issues, we designed StepStream, a social network site for middle school students to share and encourage everyday lifestyle activity.
A social system for everyday adolescent fitness
StepStream is the result of research focused on the social implications of pervasive health technologies. In this work we investigated the use of social media and Internet technologies, particularly by low-income, African American students in the urban south. The system allowed the students to share and encourage everyday lifestyle activity.
Social media platforms are a pervasive component of the everyday lives of adolescents. The ongoing innovations in social media technologies and the increased access to traditional and mobile computing have transformed the ways in which people connect, therefore having important implications for their health and wellbeing.
We found that access to computing technologies and the usage of social media platforms increase and diversified similarly to national trends. We examined the potential positive impact of social media in encouraging physical activity throughout the day, and the potential negative impact of social media in propagating destructive behaviors and more specifically self-harm and self-injurious behaviors.
Research in the wild
StepStream is a multi-week pervasive health deployment consisting of an after school program, wireless pedometers and a social network site. The system allows participating students to track their steps using wireless pedometers. On the website, students can privately view their progress, and socially give each other tips on how to get more activity, share thoughts, and interact with each other by commenting and "liking" each others’ posts.
In collaboration with and in support of the research focused on the social implications of pervasive health technologies, we also assessed the communication practices of the adolescents. Through our surveys of their technology use patters, we received concerning reports of students engaging with destructive behaviors online like cyberbullying, sexting, and self-harm like eating disorders and cutting. We used this information to create education for the students about the responsible use of technology since we were asking them to engage in online social interactions. To read more about this work, check out the Digital Self-Harm project page.
Research through design
Over a 4 year period, 180 students took part in a series of participatory design exercises as they created concepts for health games that they would like to play. Based on these workshops, and with interim feedback from students, I designed and deployed StepStream.
Theory in action
StepStream allowed me the team to test mechanisms and constructs from behavioral theories in a social and pervasive computing context. StepStream encourages peer social support (an important element of behavior change from Social Support Theory) by providing ways for users to become aware of each others' progress and design elements that encourage them to encourage each other. StepStream also takes advantage of self and collective efficacy (from Social Cognitive Theory) by giving users personalized and group goals for everyday physical activity.
Over the four year deployment of this grant, we worked with 180 elementary and middle school students in the metro Atlanta area. The students ranged from rising 4th to rising 9th graders.
A tremendous amount of outreach and dissemination has taken place in conjunction with this work. The team published 6 papers that were, as of April 2016, downloaded 1331 times and cited by 22 different papers. In addition to the professional outreach, we engaged in local stakeholder outreach as well. Based on the findings of our digital literacy surveys, we used this data to enhance community outreach materials associated with digital citizenship and online safety for junior high and high school students, administrators, and parents. We presented this material within 7 districts, a 3 Georgia Department of Education events, and 2 professional educators meetings. Approximately 745 students, parents, administrators, and teachers were reached through these efforts.
This work was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (SHB-1116801).
Pater, Jessica A., et al. "Hunger Hurts but Starving Works:” Characterizing the Presentation of Eating Disorders Online. Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 1185-1200). ACM, 2016.
Chancellor, S., Pater, J. A., Clear, T. A., Gilbert, E., & De Choudhury, M. (2016, February). # thyghgapp: Instagram Content Moderation and Lexical Variation in Pro-Eating Disorder Communities . In Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 1199-1211). ACM.
Pater, J. A., Miller, A. D., & Mynatt, E. D. (2015, April). This Digital Life: A Neighborhood-Based Study of Adolescents' Lives Online. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2305-2314). ACM. [pdf]
Miller, A.D., Mynatt, E.D. StepStream: A School-based Pervasive Social Fitness System for Everyday Adolescent Health. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '14). April 26-May 1, 2014. Toronto, Canada. [pdf]
Miller, A. D. Pater, J. Mynatt, E. D. Design Strategies for Youth-Focused Pervasive Social Health Games. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare (Pervasive Health 2013). Venice, Italy. [pdf]