Real-time social support through a mobile virtual community to improve healthy behavior in overweight and sedentary adults: a focus group analysis

J Med Internet Res. 2011 Jul 14;13(3):e49. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1770.


Background: The onset of type 2 diabetes mellitus can be prevented or delayed by lifestyle changes. Communication technologies such as a mobile phone can be used as a means of delivering these lifestyle changes.

Objectives: The purposes of this analysis were to explore applicability of potential components of a mobile phone-based healthy lifestyle program and to understand motivators and barriers to continued engagement in a mobile phone healthy lifestyle program.

Methods: We conducted 6 focus groups (4 female and 2 male groups) in May and June 2010 with 35 focus group participants. The qualitative data were analyzed by 3 researchers using a qualitative description method in an ATLAS.ti software program. Inclusion criteria for enrollment in a focus group were as follows: (1) being aged from 30 to 69 years, (2) speaking and reading English, (3) having a sedentary lifestyle at work or during leisure time (screened by the Brief Physical Activity Survey questionnaire), and (4) having a body mass index (BMI) >25 kg/m(2) (Asian >23 kg/m(2)) based on self-reported weight and height or 5) having a self-reported prediabetic condition.

Results: The mean age was 51 (SD 10.6) years; 54% (n = 19) were white; 71% (n = 25) used a mobile phone at least once a week during the last month prior to the study enrollment; and mean BMI was 32.5 (SD 6.5) kg/m(2). In the qualitative analyses, the following 4 major themes and their subthemes emerged: (1) real-time social support (real-time peer support from participants who are similarly engaged in a diet or physical activity program, and professional support from health care providers or a researcher), (2) tailoring of mobile phone programs (3) self-monitoring and motivation, and (4) potential barriers and sustainability of the program (fear of failing, age and mobile technologies, and loss of interest over time).

Conclusions: Participants from a wide range of age and racial groups expressed interest in a mobile phone-based lifestyle program. Such a program that incorporates the themes that we identified may be able to help motivate participants to increase their physical activity and to improve their diet.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cell Phone / instrumentation*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Patient Compliance
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Physical Fitness
  • Social Support*