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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Examining the use of evidence-based and social media supported tools in freely accessible physical activity intervention websites

Corneel Vandelanotte1*, Morwenna Kirwan2, Amanda Rebar1, Stephanie Alley1, Camille Short1, Luke Fallon1, Gavin Buzza1, Stephanie Schoeppe1, Carol Maher3 and Mitch J Duncan1

Author Affiliations

1 Central Queensland University, Centre for Physical Activity Studies, Rockhampton, QLD, Australia

2 University of Western Sydney, School of Science and Health, Sydney, NSW, Australia

3 University of South Australia, School of Health Sciences, Health and Use of Time Group, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2014, 11:105  doi:10.1186/s12966-014-0105-0

Published: 17 August 2014

Abstract

Background

It has been shown that physical activity is more likely to increase if web-based interventions apply evidence-based components (e.g. self-monitoring) and incorporate interactive social media applications (e.g. social networking), but it is unclear to what extent these are being utilized in the publicly available web-based physical activity interventions. The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether freely accessible websites delivering physical activity interventions use evidence-based behavior change techniques and provide social media applications.

Methods

In 2013, a systematic search strategy examined 750 websites. Data was extracted on a wide range of variables (e.g. self-monitoring, goal setting, and social media applications). To evaluate website quality a new tool, comprising three sub-scores (Behavioral Components, Interactivity and User Generated Content), was developed to assess implementation of behavior change techniques and social media applications. An overall website quality scored was obtained by summing the three sub-scores.

Results

Forty-six publicly available websites were included in the study. The use of self-monitoring (54.3%), goal setting (41.3%) and provision of feedback (46%) was relatively low given the amount of evidence supporting these features. Whereas the presence of features allowing users to generate content (73.9%), and social media components (Facebook (65.2%), Twitter (47.8%), YouTube (48.7%), smartphone applications (34.8%)) was relatively high considering their innovative and untested nature. Nearly all websites applied some behavioral and social media applications. The average Behavioral Components score was 3.45 (±2.53) out of 10. The average Interactivity score was 3.57 (±2.16) out of 10. The average User Generated Content Score was 4.02 (±2.77) out of 10. The average overall website quality score was 11.04 (±6.92) out of 30. Four websites (8.7%) were classified as high quality, 12 websites (26.1%) were classified as moderate quality, and 30 websites (65.2%) were classified as low quality.

Conclusions

Despite large developments in Internet technology and growth in the knowledge of how to develop more effective web-based interventions, overall website quality was low and the majority of freely available physical activity websites lack the components associated with behavior change. However, the results show that website quality can be improved by taking a number of simple steps, and the presence of social media applications in most websites is encouraging.

Keywords:
Physical activity; Web-based intervention; Freely accessible; Web 2.0; Social media; Behavior change; Interactivity; User generated content; Website quality; Online; Internet