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Web-Based Physical Activity Intervention for College-Aged Women

Program Synopsis

Designed to promote physical activity among college-aged women, this intervention involves the following: (1) participants meeting with a program administrator to receive a pedometer, learn how to set weekly step goals, and complete a goal statement form; (2) participants regularly accessing web content designed to enhance behavioral capability, self-regulation, and self-efficacy; and (3) participants receiving weekly emails providing personalized feedback on their progress. The study showed an increase in mean pedometer steps per day.

Program Highlights

Purpose: Designed to promote physical activity among women (2007).
Age: 19-39 Years (Young Adults)
Sex: Female
Race/Ethnicity: Asian, Pacific Islander, White (not of Hispanic or Latino Origin)
Program Focus: Awareness Building, Behavior Modification and Motivation
Population Focus: This information is not available.
Program Area: Physical Activity
Delivery Location: School (K-College)
Community Type: This information has not been reported.
Program Materials

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Implementation Guide

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Featured Profile

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Sustained physical inactivity increases risk for several conditions including heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and type II diabetes. Poor diet and physically inactive lifestyles are the second highest cause of mortality, but individuals can decrease their risk by increasing their daily activities and making physical activity a fundamental component of their lifestyle. College-aged women are particularly at risk for developing sedentary lifestyles in the transition years between college and career. When women enter college, they become significantly less physically active than when they were in high school. Up to 67% of college-aged women are insufficiently physically active. Proposed reasons for their lack of physical activity include: (a) lack of time or motivation, (b) lack of enjoyment, (c) lack of purpose (compared to other life tasks), (d) a desire to spend time with family members who have needs, and (e) other household demands. If women do not develop behavioral skills to increase physical activity during college, it is unlikely they will adopt a physically active lifestyle after entering the workplace. Health promotion professionals are in a good position to promote physical activity through college-supported wellness centers. Interventions that promote walking are appealing because walking is the most popular physical activity among women.

In this 4-week, Web-based program, college-aged women learn about lifestyle physical activity, set goals for walking (i.e., number of steps per day), wear a pedometer, and record daily steps taken to monitor the attainment of their step goal. Colleges and universities can host the program by integrating it into their on-line course system or e-learning environment. Through weekly emails, participants are encouraged to access the on-line program daily to help develop and maintain their walking routine.

The program includes nine modules, each consisting of a brief PowerPoint presentation. The content is based on social cognitive theory and designed to enhance behavioral capability, self-regulation, and self-efficacy. Topics covered in the modules include an overview of lifestyle physical activity; how to wear and use a pedometer; monitoring one's progress; the benefits of physical activity; safety issues and tips; and how to recognize and overcome barriers. The final module offers site-specific tips on where to walk.

Participants meet with a program administrator at the beginning of the intervention to receive a pedometer, if one is being provided through the program; review expectations for the program; learn how to set weekly step goals; and complete a goal statement form. Emphasis is placed on setting realistic step goals that progressively increase physical activity and monitoring whether these goals are met. The use of personalized step goals decreases the risk of not meeting goals. For example, rather than set a goal of 10,000 steps per day, participants are encouraged to begin with a goal of 1,000-3,000 steps above their baseline steps and increase their step goal each week by another 1,000-3,000 steps. Each day during the 4-week program, participants complete a recording sheet in which they note the time at which they put on and took off the pedometer and the number of steps walked. At the end of each week, they submit a copy of the completed recording sheet to the program administrator by email or postal mail. Participants receive weekly emails from the program administrator providing personalized feedback on their progress.

Implementation Guide

The Implementation Guide is a resource for implementing this evidence-based program. It provides important information about the staffing and functions necessary for administering this program in the user's setting. Additionally, the steps needed to carry out the program, relevant program materials, and information for evaluating the program are included. The Implementation Guide can be viewed and downloaded on the Program Materials page.

This program uses the following intervention approach for which the Community Preventive Services Task Force finds insufficient evidence: college-based physical education and health education interventions (Physical Activity). Insufficient evidence means the available studies do not provide sufficient evidence to determine if the intervention is or is not effective. This does not mean that the intervention does not work. It means that additional research is needed to determine whether the intervention is effective.

The intervention requires daily interaction on the program Web site over the course of 4 weeks.

The intervention is intended for female college students who are not regularly or systematically physically active and are comfortable using computer technologies.

The intervention is suitable for implementation at colleges and universities that can provide a Web site or on-line learning system (i.e., WebCT/Blackboard) to host the modules.

Required materials include:

-Modules 1-9
-Goal Statement Form
-Recording Sheet
-Directions for Wearing Pedometer
-Participant Evaluation Form

A program administrator is required to provide site-specific recommendations for where to walk, where to meet participants, and email participants weekly feedback on their progress.

For costs associated with the program, please contact the developer Lynne Ornes.

An experimental repeated-measures design was used to compare the effectiveness of the Web-based physical activity intervention and two control conditions in increasing walking behavior in 112 female university students with a mean age of 20.6 years.  Baseline activity (steps taken daily) was obtained for all participants. Participants were randomly assigned to the intervention group (n=61) or one of two control groups, one group receiving unsealed pedometers that allowed participants to view and record the number of steps taken each day (n=30) and one receiving sealed pedometers that tracked steps without making that information visible to the wearer (n=30).  Participants in the intervention group were told their baseline mean steps and shown how to set goals for walking during the first week of the intervention. Throughout the rest of the study period, they participated in the Web-based intervention, set step goals, wore a pedometer daily, and recorded steps taken. Through weekly emails, participants were encouraged to view modules on the Web site to help develop their walking routine. Participants in the control groups were not given instruction to increase physical activity or did not have access to the intervention. They were asked to follow their present daily routine and not change their physical activity level.  The use of two control groups was intended to determine whether a participant's ability to see or not see the number of steps taken daily has a differential motivational effect on physical activity, independent of the receipt of information on physical activity.  Analyses indicated the two control groups were essentially equivalent in walking behavior, so data were collapsed into one control group.

Walking behavior was assessed by using pedometers to record step counts daily. The number of steps taken per day was averaged each week.

Graph of Study Results

  • Over the 4-week study period, women who received the intervention increased their mean steps per day by 38.8%, while women who did not receive the intervention increased their mean steps per day by only 2.1% (p=.001).

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Updated: 07/31/2020