Exercise as it relates to Disease/Increased social media use cant really improve physical activity, can it?
This is an analysis of the journal article "The Efficacy of a Walking Intervention Using Social Media to Increase Physical Activity: A Randomized Trial" by Rote, Klos, Brondino, Harley & Swartz (2015).
What is the background to this research?
The World Health Organisation defines physical activity as ‘any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure’. Individuals who do not meet the recommended level of regular physical activity are regarded as physically inactive. Physical inactivity has been recognised as the fourth leading risk factor associated with global mortality, reportedly responsible for an estimated 3.2 million deaths worldwide.
As physical inactivity levels increase so do the number of health risks and diseases associated. Strategies to increase physical activity amongst the population aid to benefit health significantly by reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, various cancers, and depression.
Due to technological advancements there has been an increase in sedentary lifestyles.  Walking remains to be the most efficient method of physical activity due to its cost effectiveness, availability and convenience. More specifically, incorporating the increasing use of social media sites such as Facebook as a platform to promote physical activity could be an effective intervention strategy to encourage physical activity among college women as suggested by Rote et al.
Where is the research from?
Rote, Klos, Brondino, Harley & Swartz from Human Kinetics conducted this research throughout Midwestern United States focusing on an urban setting.
What kind of research is this?
This is a randomised trial, involving the use of sealed pedometers counting participants steps/day and weekly logs to collect information.
What did the research involve?
A sample of 63 female college freshmen were randomised into one of two 8 week interventions; Facebook Social Support Group (FSSG) (n=32) or Standard Walking Intervention (SWI) (n=31). Both groups received step goals each week and recorded their steps/day with a pedometer. Unlike the SWI, the FSSG joined a Facebook Group and were instructed to post their steps/day and provide feedback of support to other participants. Each week all participants received a message from the intervention leader and asked to provide their steps/day for the previous week. New step goals were sent along with feedback and educational information on physical activity.
What were the basic results?
Rote et al found that both groups significantly increased steps/day from pre to post intervention. Moreover, the study found that the FSSG increased their steps/day significantly more than the SWI, going from 5,295 to 12,472 steps/day. This increase in physical activity could be associated with the obligation of reaching set step goals as women in the SWI improved physical activity by 80% above baseline. However, with the simple addition of a FSSG, the Facebook group significantly increased physical activity by 136% above baseline over the 8-week intervention.
The difference in improvement of the FSSG group compared to the SWI could have been influenced by the extrinsic motivation created due to the social support aspect of the intervention.
|Mean Weekly Steps/day by Intervention Group and Time|
|Standard Walking Intervention
|Facebook Social Support Group
|0||31 5595.10||32 5295.22|
|1||30 7011.00||31 6940.29|
|2||29 7519.21||28 8166.29|
|3||28 7993.46||29 8295.24|
|4||27 8889.25||26 9260.50|
|5||27 9225.59||29 9911.97|
|6||25 9535.56||27 10,417.70|
|7||26 10,455.62||24 11,604.79|
|8||25 10,135.64||27 12,472.44|
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers interpretation of the results was that women who participated in the FSSG increased steps/day significantly more than the SWI.
A few considerations had to be taken into account by the researchers when interpreting the results from this research. Measurements including: Number of hours worked, time spent on Facebook, number of Facebook friends, waist circumference, Body Mass Index and physical activity at baseline were averaged and compared, finding no significant differences between groups. Comparing the averages of these measurements, however, suggests that the results obtained lacked in individual accuracy.
The mean results of steps/day each week showed the FSSG deviating from the SWI between week 1 and 2 with the difference becoming increasingly larger after week 4. Although, researchers found that the adherence levels of the intervention decreased over the 8 weeks, this did not predict changes in levels of physical activity.
What conclusions can we take from this research?
This research demonstrated its effectiveness of a FSSG on increasing physical activity in young women.
Previous studies comparing the use of social media to increase physical activity have found inconclusive results. However, these studies deliver differing methods, including the use of an additional intervention website to Facebook resulting in low adherence from participants to consistently access both sites. The results concluded in Rote et al's study provides relevant evidence to suggest that Facebook is an appropriate and effective platform for an intervention to improve physical activity.
Often, self reporting in research, which was seen throughout this study as participants reported their steps/day, can cause bias and influence the validity of results. However, with the use of the sealed pedometers, the researchers ensured that participants were not able to report conflicting results to the provided pedometer. The pedometers used were also tested by researchers for their reliability, finding that the pedometers showed 96% accuracy when compared to observing steps directly. This was demonstrated over five 100 step trials and showed no difference in steps counted, further increasing the reliability of the results found.
While the overall results were significantly high, it would be worthwhile to trial a larger sample group to ascertain the true validity of these results.
This research has shown that involvement in a FSSG using a social media platform such as Facebook has significant benefits for increasing physical activity in college women. These significant improvements consequently further benefit the individual in reducing health risks and diseases associated with physical inactivity.
For further information regarding the benefits of social media on physical activity; click on the links below.
- Technology to Help Promote Physical Activity: http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149(16)31586-7/pdf
- Social Media to Promote Health: http://www.actionforhealthykids.org/game-on/find-challenges/at-home-challenges/1731-social-media-to-promote-health
- Rote, A. E., Klos, L. A., Brondino, M. J., Harley, A. E., & Swartz, A. M. (2015). The efficacy of a walking intervention using social media to increase physical activity: a randomized trial. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 12(s1), S18-S25.
- Physical activity. (2015). World Health Organization. Available from: http://www.who.int/topics/physical_activity/en/
- Hoehner CM, Brennan-Ramirez LK, Elliot MB, Handy SL & Brownson RC. (2005). Perceived and objective environmental measures and physical activity among urban adults. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 28(2): 105-116.
- Duggan, M., & Brenner, J. (2013). The demographics of social media users–2012. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Pew Internet & American Life Project.
- Maher, C. A., Lewis, L. K., Ferrar, K., Marshall, S., De Bourdeaudhuij, I., & Vandelanotte, C. (2014). Are health behavior change interventions that use online social networks effective? A systematic review. Journal of medical Internet research, 16(2).
- Cavallo, D. N., Tate, D. F., Ries, A. V., Brown, J. D., DeVellis, R. F., & Ammerman, A. S. (2012). A social media–based physical activity intervention: a randomized controlled trial. American journal of preventive medicine, 43(5), 527-532.
- Van de Mortel TF. (2008). Faking it: social desirability response bias in self-report research. Australian Journal of advanced nursing. 25(4): 40-48.