The increasing numbers of overweight and obese adolescents is a key health challenge in 21st century America. Since the 1980s, rates of overweight adolescents have doubled, and rates of obese adolescents have tripled; adolescent obesity is now the single biggest predictor of adult obesity. At the same time, adolescents are spending increasing portions of their lives interacting with video games and social network sites, incorporating computing into their leisure and social communication practices on a large scale. This project uses computing technology to address adolescent obesity through the development and study of social tools to promote sustained everyday healthy practices by adolescents. The research demonstrates how social computing can enable offline healthy behaviors, using peers as motivators in contrast to "top-down" approaches. The work is in partnership with DeKalb County Schools, Georgia's most urban school district and a leading awardee of research-focused programs.
Research in this project is exploring the effects of various social computing tools and features on a set of validated outcome measures grounded in our previous work and best practices. During the school year the project deploys a series of pedometer-based social health applications and games for 8th graders in two middle schools. In the summers between deployment cycles, a small subset of participants takes part in design sessions for the next school year.
Research focuses on three main topics: 1. The role of online social identity presentation in intrinsic motivation.
2. The ability of social computing interventions to facilitate offline rituals and habits.
3. The impact of collective experiences.
This research will contribute to our understanding of the connections between social media activity and offline behavior. It will also demonstrate improvements in health behaviors and attitudes for adolescents. Moreover by deepening the connection between the Dekalb School System in Atlanta and Georgia Tech, the project enriches the educational environment of these middle school students.