InFocus: Contxt Coach

The study aims to create a personalized diet and exercise plan that will be monitored through a system of automated text messages sent to subjects about four times daily. These messages will include a balance of motivational topics such as health tips and recipes, as well as questions about the subject’s caloric intake, activity level for the day and step count. The subjects will check in with the program’s in-office health coaches three times during the study so that they may record their progress.

The developers believe that consistent accountability, which will increase awareness of one’s habits, will make achieving weekly goals reasonable for everyone. They have been working for several years to create a highly detailed and efficient way of randomizing the messages, while at the same time tailoring their trajectory according to the specific received responses from the subject.

The project is funded by the National Cancer Institute and has been evolving for several years at the Cal Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology based in UCSD’s Atkinson Hall. It began with the foundation study conducted by principle investigator, Kevin Patrick. Finding that the main barrier to living a healthy lifestyle is a lack of access to resources and information, he and his co-founders wanted to find a single platform to reach as many people as possible — and they found the key right at their fingertips.

“We know that cell phones are something that cross social strata — poor or rich people have cell phones,” Acting Interim Study Coordinator Angelica Barrera-Ng said. “Everyone has this at their reach as opposed to personal consultants which cost more resources. We will provide them with motivational tips, easy and practical, that are incremental in a noninvasive way.”

To ensure the program is universally efficient while remaining specific to each individual, the developers must take into consideration a variety of differences that must be addressed in the text messages. This may include presenting the information in a different way or altering a separate selection of recipes in order to address the social circumstances that differ from an English speaker. All of these details are directly in line with ConTxt Coach’s hypothesis that health is not only an issue concerning biology, but that the main factor to a plan’s success is its relevance and workability into one’s specific lifestyle.

However, they are fully willing to take on this challenge if the study proves to be a success.

“With any public healthy study, there is always that ultimate goal of extending it to the general public,” said Barrera-Ng. “We are working for them, and simply want to counterbalance and attack this wide problem of obesity. Hopefully someday we may implement it somehow into public policy, but for now we just want to see what happens with the study.”

 

—Alexa Rocero

Contributing Writer

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