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Online Forums Increase Participation in Walking Program

13 Sep

My wife, Dr. Caroline Richardson, has for many years been developing and testing an Internet-mediated walking program, called Stepping Up to Health, with various populations. Participants get an uploading pedometer and interact with a website that graphs progress, automatically increments daily walking goals as people become more fit, and provides personally tailored tips. It’s been pretty effective. But it’s been purely an individual activity: there was no interaction among participants. We wondered if some interpersonal interaction might make it even more effective.

We started just by adding online forums, without deep integration of social features. Remarkably, in a randomized controlled trial, we found that just the forums were enough to cause more people to stick with the program. In the arm of the trial with no online community, 66% of people completed the 16-week program (meaning they uploaded steps for 20 days in the last month). In the arm with an online community, 79% completed. In other words, about a third of those who would have been expected to drop out didn’t. Continue reading