Future-Self Avatar Improves Health Motivation But Not Behavioral Change

To reduce bias based on a user’s current health status, a mobile health intervention uses an avatar of their future self to help people understand the long-term effects of physical activity and nutrition on their bodies.

A mobile app that allowed users to see what their future would look like when they made certain healthy choices significantly increased motivation to live a healthy lifestyle, but did not significantly improve users’ actual behavior toward that goal.

These findings were published in Journal of Medical Internet Researchwhere the study authors measured the impact of FutureMe, a mobile app that tracks physical activity and food purchases.

The main feature of the mobile health (mHealth) app is the future avatar that users can customize to present themselves right at the start of the intervention. After setting, the 2D avatar transforms to represent a version 20 years older than the set age.

Changes to your future self avatar are based on 5 main factors, 1 physical subcategory and 6 nutritional subcategories:

  • fitness status: physical activity
  • heart health: sodium, saturated fatty acids
  • mental well-being: fruits and vegetables, fiber
  • bone health: protein

FutureMe features also include personalized food basket analysis and grocery shopping tips.

“The FutureMe app aims to promote the overall nutritional quality of participants’ food purchases and encourage an increase in physical activity to ≥7,500 steps per day based on previous findings that health benefits can be achieved at this level,” they explain the authors of the study.

To determine the effects of the mHealth intervention, the authors conducted a 12-week randomized controlled trial and followed up with interviews.

A total of 95 elderly participants in Switzerland were initially enrolled, with a balanced gender ratio and a median (IQR) age of 44 (19) years. All participants spoke German, used a smartphone and used at least 1 of 2 leading Swiss grocery loyalty cards. Data collected between November 2020 and April 2021.

Participants were divided into 2 groups, with 42 in the intervention group using FutureMe and 53 in the control group receiving a conventional text and graphics intervention. However, due to only 30 participants completing the intervention and the overall small sample size, the authors note that the statistical power of the findings is limited and requires further research.

After the 12-week intervention, the authors found no statistically significant changes in physical behavior or dietary intake over the course of the 12-week intervention. However, they found that using the future self avatar significantly increased intrinsic motivation among users, a factor that did not increase in the control group (P = 0.03).

“Intrinsic motivation is associated with more sustained behavior change than extrinsically motivated behavior,” the authors said. “Future avatars, as an element of gamification, can significantly contribute to improving the long-term effectiveness of mHealth interventions compared to more traditional text and digital interfaces.”

They also noted that future research is needed and that the small sample size and strict tracking of groceries from only certain grocery stores limited the power of this study. However, the study shows that the avatar of the future self can be modified to reduce current biases and promote sustainable behavior change to promote a healthy lifestyle.

reference

Mönninghoff A, Fuchs K, Wu J, Albert J, Mayer S. The effect of a mobile health intervention Future Avatar (FutureMe) on physical activity and food purchases: a randomized controlled trial. J With internet res. Published online 7 July 2022 doi:10.2196/32487

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.