Evaluating Machine Learning-Based Automated Personalized Daily Step Goals Delivered Through a Mobile Phone App: Randomized Controlled Trial

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2018 Jan 25;6(1):e28. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.9117.


Background: Growing evidence shows that fixed, nonpersonalized daily step goals can discourage individuals, resulting in unchanged or even reduced physical activity.

Objective: The aim of this randomized controlled trial (RCT) was to evaluate the efficacy of an automated mobile phone-based personalized and adaptive goal-setting intervention using machine learning as compared with an active control with steady daily step goals of 10,000.

Methods: In this 10-week RCT, 64 participants were recruited via email announcements and were required to attend an initial in-person session. The participants were randomized into either the intervention or active control group with a one-to-one ratio after a run-in period for data collection. A study-developed mobile phone app (which delivers daily step goals using push notifications and allows real-time physical activity monitoring) was installed on each participant's mobile phone, and participants were asked to keep their phone in a pocket throughout the entire day. Through the app, the intervention group received fully automated adaptively personalized daily step goals, and the control group received constant step goals of 10,000 steps per day. Daily step count was objectively measured by the study-developed mobile phone app.

Results: The mean (SD) age of participants was 41.1 (11.3) years, and 83% (53/64) of participants were female. The baseline demographics between the 2 groups were similar (P>.05). Participants in the intervention group (n=34) had a decrease in mean (SD) daily step count of 390 (490) steps between run-in and 10 weeks, compared with a decrease of 1350 (420) steps among control participants (n=30; P=.03). The net difference in daily steps between the groups was 960 steps (95% CI 90-1830 steps). Both groups had a decrease in daily step count between run-in and 10 weeks because interventions were also provided during run-in and no natural baseline was collected.

Conclusions: The results showed the short-term efficacy of this intervention, which should be formally evaluated in a full-scale RCT with a longer follow-up period.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT02886871; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02886871 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6wM1Be1Ng).

Keywords: cell phone; clinical trial; fitness tracker; physical activity.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02886871