Research Spotlight: Mobile health researchers fight an epidemic with smartphones 

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Sherry Pagoto, the director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media, is researching how people can use social media to develop healthier habits. The researchers developed an app that is supposed to help people better understand what factors cause them to have a lapse in healthy eating habits.  Photo by Brandon Barzola / The Daily Campus

Sherry Pagoto, the director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media, is researching how people can use social media to develop healthier habits. The researchers developed an app that is supposed to help people better understand what factors cause them to have a lapse in healthy eating habits. Photo by Brandon Barzola / The Daily Campus

The University of Connecticut Center for Mobile Health (mHealth) and Social Media is trying to solve the obesity epidemic with a combination of health psychology and behavioral technology. 

Obesity affects 39.8% of adults and causes $147 billion in medical costs each year, according to the Center for Disease Control. Researchers at UConn’s InCHIP, the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention and Policy, are looking into how mHealth, a new field that uses mobile technology for public health benefits, can help solve the obesity epidemic. 

Specifically, they’re creating an app to help build better eating habits using health psychology, said Sherry Pagoto, the director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media and professor of allied health sciences. 

 Pagoto described her app as different than others currently in use. 

“We developed an app called SlipBuddy. The purpose of this app is to help people understand their eating slips,” Pagoto said. “So, normally weight loss apps involve tracking every single calorie that you put in your mouth, and then looking at what your totals are and comparing that to the calorie goal. That’s all a lot of work. So, we thought, ‘Are there ways that we can help people track their eating and understand more about their eating habits without all of that work?’” 

With SlipBuddy, users track when they feel they’ve slipped up in their healthy eating habits. It asks the user a series of questions about the slip up in order to help the user have a fuller picture of what factors may cause them to fall back into unhealthier habits.  

The app is in its beta phase, and UConn mHealth and Social Media is currently tracking its efficacy in relation to traditional weight tracking apps.  

In addition to the app, the UConn mHealth and Social Media team is also exploring how social media can be used as a tool for personal health.  

 “We do leverage social media as well to solve health problems in all kinds of different ways,” said Pagoto.  

 In the study in which SlipBuddy is being tested, Pagoto has participants using a combination of the app and an online community to help with weight loss. 

“We put them [the participants] into our Facebook group, where they’re working along with our counselors on behavioral weight loss strategies,” Pagoto said of the study.  

Pagoto described this research study as part of a broader investigation into how technology can benefit preventative medicine.  

“There’s so much evidence now that different behaviors really matter in terms of preventing the top two diseases that really affect Americans, which would be heart disease and cancer,” Pagoto said. “If we could come up with solutions that help people live the lifestyles that would help prevent those diseases, maybe we could have less of those diseases.” 


Grace McFadden is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at grace.mcfadden@uconn.edu.

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