Emerging Technologies to Promote and Evaluate Physical Activity
James Aaron Hipp
Dan J Graham
Increasingly, efforts to promote and measure physical activity are achieving greater precision, greater ease of use, and/or greater scope by incorporating emerging technologies. This is significant for physical activity promotion because more precise measurement will allow investigators to better understand where, when, and how physical activity is and is not occurring, thus enabling more effective targeting of particular behavior settings. Emerging technologies associated with the measurement and evaluation of physical activity are noteworthy because: (1) Their ease of use and transferability can greatly increase external validity of measures and findings; (2) Technologies can significantly increase the ability to analyze patterns; (3) They can improve the ongoing, systematic collection and analysis of public health surveillance due to real-time capabilities associated with many emerging technologies; (4) There is a need for research and papers about the cyberinfrastructure required to cope with big data (multiple streams, processing, aggregation, visualization, etc.); and (5) Increasingly blurred boundaries between measurement and intervention activity (e.g., the quantified-self /self-tracking movement) may necessitate a reevaluation of the conventional scientific model for designing and evaluating these sorts of studies. There have been many recent, disparate advances related to this topic. Advances such as crowdsourcing allow for input from large, diverse audiences that can help to identify and improve infrastructure for activity (e.g., large group identification of environmental features that are conducive or inhibiting to physical activity on a national and even global scale). Technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and accelerometry are now available in many mobile phones and can be used for identifying and promoting activity and also understanding naturalistically-occurring activity. SenseCam and other personal, visual devices and mobile apps provide person point of view context to physical activity lifestyle and timing. Further, multiple sensor systems are enabling better identification of types of activities (like stair climbing and jumping) that could not previously be identified readily using objective measures like pedometers or accelerometers in isolation. The ability of activity sensors to send data to remote servers allows for the incorporation of online technology (e.g., employing an online social-network as a source of inspiration or accountability to achieve physical activity goals), and websites such as Stickk.com enable individuals to make public contracts visible to other users and also incorporates financial incentives and disincentives in order to promote behaviors including physical activity. In addition, the increasing use of active-gaming (e.g., Wii, XBox Kinect) in homes, schools, and other venues further underscores the growing link between technology and physical activity. Improvements in mathematical models and computer algorithms also allow greater capacity for classifying and evaluating physical activity, improving consistency across research studies. Emerging technologies in the promotion and evaluation of physical activity is a significant area of interest because of its ability to greatly increase the amount and quality of global recorded measurements of PA patterns and its potential to more effectively promote PA. Emerging technologies related to physical activity build on our own and others’ interdisciplinary collaborations in employing technology to address public health challenges. This research area is innovative in that is uses emerging resources including social media, crowdsourcing, and online gaming to better understand patterns of physical activity.