Development and Initial Testing of a Personalized, Adaptive, and Socially Focused Web Tool to Support Physical Activity Among Women in Midlife: Multidisciplinary and User-Centered Design Approach

JMIR Form Res. 2022 Jul 26;6(7):e36280. doi: 10.2196/36280.


Background: Women in midlife are vulnerable to developing cardiovascular disease, particularly those who have conditions such as hypertension. Physical activity (PA) can reduce risk, but efforts to promote PA in this population have been only modestly effective. More attention to social influences on PA behavior may be useful, particularly social support and social comparison processes. Activating these processes with digital tools can provide easy access that is flexible to the needs of women in midlife.

Objective: This paper describes the user-centered design processes of developing and conducting initial evaluation of a personalized and adaptive web application, tailored to the social needs of women in midlife. The goal was to gather feedback from the population of interest, before and during the design process.

Methods: This study was conducted in 4 stages. The first and second authors (DA and AFL) developed technical specifications, informed by their experience with the population of interest. We collected feedback on potential content for the web application with women in midlife using both interviews (5/10, 50%; mean age 47.4, SD 6.66 years; mean BMI 35.3, SD 9.55 kg/m2) and surveys (5/10, 50%; mean age 51, SD 6.60 years; mean BMI 32.7, SD 8.39 kg/m2). We used their feedback to inform support messages and peer profiles (ie, sources of social comparison information). Nine members of the behavioral science team and 3 testers unfamiliar with the web application completed internal testing. We conducted naturalistic functionality testing with a different group of women in midlife (n=5; mean age 50, SD 6.26 years; mean BMI 30.1, SD 5.83 kg/m2), who used the web application as intended for 4 days and provided feedback at the end of this period.

Results: Iterative storyboard development resulted in programming specifications for a prototype of the web application. We used content feedback to select and refine the support messages and peer profiles to be added. The following 2 rounds of internal testing identified bugs and other problems regarding the web application's functioning and full data collection procedure. Problems were addressed or logged for future consideration. Naturalistic functionality testing revealed minimal further problems; findings showed preliminary acceptability of the web application and suggested that women may select different social content across days.

Conclusions: A multidisciplinary and user-centered design approach led to a personalized and adaptive web application, tailored to the social needs of women in midlife. Findings from testing with this population demonstrated the feasibility and acceptability of the new application and supported further development toward its use in daily life. We describe several potential uses of the web application and next steps for its development. We also discuss the lessons learned and offer recommendations for future collaborations between behavioral and computer scientists to develop similar tools.

Keywords: digital health; eHealth; midlife; mobile phone; physical activity; social comparison; social support; user-centered design; women’s health.