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The Causal Impact of Online Social Media on Physical Activity: A Randomized Controlled Trial

The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government. Read our disclaimer for details. Identifier: NCT02267369
Recruitment Status : Completed
First Posted : October 17, 2014
Last Update Posted : October 17, 2014
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
University of Pennsylvania

Brief Summary:
The overall objective of this research is to collect data for understanding whether messages in online environments impact fitness attitudes and behaviors. In particular, the study aims to experimentally examine what features of online social media - promotional messaging or peer networks - impact offline fitness measures (such fitness workshop enrollment and self-reported physical activity level). The study partners with an existing fitness program at a large northeastern university, which provides a 13-week fitness program for graduate and professional students at the university. The program begins with a university-run eligibility assessment of specific fitness measures for all participants, who win prizes for improvements in program participation and health behavior outcomes. The fitness program consists of semester-long series of workshops offered through the university's recreation department. The randomized trial constructs an online social media platform for the fitness program that provides a way to send either promotion health messages or messages about peer activities to the online community.

Condition or disease Intervention/treatment Phase
Physical Activity Behavioral: Media-assisted fitness program Behavioral: Social network-assisted fitness program Behavioral: Basic fitness program Not Applicable

Detailed Description:

Sedentary lifestyle among university students and young adults has become a global epidemic. Widespread use of social media is both a contributing factor, and a potential solution; however the cost-effective use of social media to promote fitness on college campuses is poorly understood. This study aims to identify what features of social media - promotional messaging or peer networks - can increase physical activity levels.

In this randomized controlled trial, participants are randomized to three conditions: basic online program for enrolling in university-run weekly fitness workshops, media condition that supplements the basic program with promotional media messages, and a social condition that replaces the media content with a network of peers. Participants are limited to graduate and professional students at a large northeastern university.

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Study Type : Interventional  (Clinical Trial)
Actual Enrollment : 217 participants
Allocation: Randomized
Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment
Masking: Double (Care Provider, Outcomes Assessor)
Primary Purpose: Basic Science
Official Title: The Causal Impact of Online Social Media on Physical Activity: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Study Start Date : January 2014
Actual Primary Completion Date : May 2014
Actual Study Completion Date : May 2014

Resource links provided by the National Library of Medicine

Arm Intervention/treatment
Active Comparator: Basic fitness program
The control condition provides study participants with online tools for enrolling in offline fitness workshops offered by the university's recreation department and recording their progress in the program. All fitness workshops are pre-programmed in an online calendar. Upon clicking a workshop, participants can read a detailed description and register for it directly on the calendar. The registration then triggers a confirmation email sent to the participant immediately and a reminder email 12 hours before the workshop starts. In addition, an online tracking tool is built that participants can use to keep a daily journal of their health activities and fitness status.
Behavioral: Basic fitness program
Participants can register workshops online and track program participation.
Other Name: Control condition

Experimental: Media-assisted fitness program
The media condition evaluates the effects of informational and motivational messages on physical activity by supplementing the basic program tools with promotional media, including: "high arousal" videos encouraging physical activity, real-time email notifications about upcoming fitness workshops, and informational graphics with exercise tips and motivational messages. In the media condition, participants receive two videos on the website and one informational graphic that encourage physical activity on a weekly basis.
Behavioral: Media-assisted fitness program
Participants can register workshops online, track program participation, and receive promotional health messages online.
Other Name: Media condition

Experimental: Social network-assisted fitness program
The social condition, by contrast, omits the media content. Instead, the basic program is supplemented with a network of four to six anonymous "health peers," composed of other participants of the program. Within the program website, each participant is able to see their peers' basic profile information, as well as information about their peers' progress in the program, and real-time notifications about their peers' completion of program activities. These networks do not provide any added incentives or additional content to promote physical activity, nor can participants directly communicate with, or "message" their peers through the website.
Behavioral: Social network-assisted fitness program
Participants can register workshops online and track program participation. Participants are put into anonymous online social networks and receive real-time activity updates from 4-6 peers.
Other Name: Social condition

Primary Outcome Measures :
  1. Fitness workshop enrollment [ Time Frame: Up to 3 months ]
    Participants' enrollment in fitness workshops is recorded when participants digitally confirm their workshop registration. Workshop instructors confirm the attendance of enrolled participants. Enrollment is assessed up to 3 months from date of randomization.

Secondary Outcome Measures :
  1. Change from baseline in participants' self-reported physical activity level [ Time Frame: Baseline and 3 months ]
    At the baseline and post-program (3 months) online surveys, participants answer the question: "On how many of the past 7 days did you participate in physical activity for at least 30 minutes that did not make you sweat or breathe hard, such as fast walking, slow bicycling, and skating?" Responses to the question range from 0 to 7.

Information from the National Library of Medicine

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Ages Eligible for Study:   Child, Adult, Older Adult
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   Yes

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Graduate and professional students at a large northeastern university.
  • Logging in to the study website at least once after online registration

Exclusion Criteria:

  • Inability to perform physical activities (e.g., broken limbs), and underlying diseases that were likely to affect participant safety. Ineligibility is determined by the Department of Recreation and Health Services at the university.

Information from the National Library of Medicine

To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contact information provided by the sponsor.

Please refer to this study by its identifier (NCT number): NCT02267369

Sponsors and Collaborators
University of Pennsylvania
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Principal Investigator: Damon M. Centola, Ph.D Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Publications automatically indexed to this study by Identifier (NCT Number):
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Responsible Party: University of Pennsylvania Identifier: NCT02267369    
Other Study ID Numbers: 819455
First Posted: October 17, 2014    Key Record Dates
Last Update Posted: October 17, 2014
Last Verified: October 2014
Keywords provided by University of Pennsylvania:
social media
online social network
physical activity