Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Framingham Heart Study
Physical activity is associated with many health benefits, including reduced rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. However, more than 50 percent of adults in the United States don't achieve enough regular physical activity to obtain such benefits.
We partnered with the Framingham Heart Study to launch the first clinical trial ever conducted in their cohort.
Participants tracked daily step counts using a wearable device or a smartphone, established a baseline, selected a step goal increase, and received daily individual feedback on goal performance by text message or email for 24 weeks. Families in the gamification arm, which was designed to enhance collaboration, accountability, and peer support, could earn points and progress through levels based on physical activity goal achievement during the 12-week intervention period. Way to Health was used to administer and manage the program.
The gamification intervention significantly increased physical activity. Families in the gamification arm significantly increased their daily steps and achieved step goals at higher rates – 53 percent vs. 32 percent. The average increase in daily steps for each person in the gamification arm equated to nearly one mile per day, and differences persisted three months after the game ended.
Findings from this study indicate that gamification that leverages insights from behavioral economics to enhance social incentives can offer a promising approach to changing health behaviors.