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School and Program Updates

School and Program Updates

South Florida Designs Platform to Encourage Physical Activity

USF College of Public Health’s Dr. Janice Zgibor, associate professor in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics, has been working on a wayfinding service for increasing physical activity and recently had a chapter on this research published in Smart City 360°.

“One of the biggest problems in this country is obesity. Compounding this issue is lack of physical activity,” Dr. Zgibor said.

The service will find routes that involve multi-modal transportation where walking is always one mode.

The project began a few years ago when Dr. Monsak Socharoentum of the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center in Thailand, developed a social networking platform that can be used to help increase physical activity and potentially reduce obesity.

Socharoentum worked with Dr. Zgibor and Dr. Hassan Karimi, University of Pittsburgh School of Information Science; and Dr. Gretchen Piatt, University of Michigan Department of Learning Health Science and School of Medicine, to help with integrating this platform with using a public health approach.

The platform will work through an app where an individual would set a goal of how many steps or the distance they would like to walk. Next they pick a starting point and end point; the app will then make a route for the individual while also directing them to parking spots or bus lines that are along the route.

“So in this particular platform you would say ‘I need to go from point A to point B’ and ‘I want to walk two miles of it’ or ‘I want to walk a half mile of it’ and the app will tell you where you need to park or where you need to get off the bus so that you can get more activity in,” Zgibor said.

The platform will also have a support group feature. Dr. Zgibor said that this feature would give users a way to communicate with one another, to find new routes, rate routes that users have used, and have a solid support base for their efforts.

“I think globally that the more choices people have, the more likely they are to be successful at some preventive behavior whether it is healthy eating, physical activity, or another behavior,” Dr. Zgibor said. “Humans are all different and we all have different approaches to health based on our beliefs, motivation, and day to day challenges. All of these can influence the choices that we make.”

The project is still in development and will begin trials using agent-based modeling. This type of computational model simulates the actions and interactions of autonomous agents to assess the effects of the health intervention on the system as a whole.

“You really don’t have to do humans at first, you can use this imaginary cohort based on real data and have them do the intervention for you,” Dr. Zgibor said. “It’s the next step to take before we work with actual people; we want to see if this makes sense in a simulated population and then start trials with human populations.”

Dr. Zgibor said that it was exciting to her that this platform brought public health, engineering, and information science all together with the common goal to reduce obesity from all different perspectives.

“I have been working on more technology projects and it’s just interesting that as public health researchers, there’s so much that we have to learn from other disciplines to make health better,” Dr. Zgibor said. “Sometimes we’re so used to doing it a certain way, like health education alone, but if you combine the great things about health education with some of the high level technology you get the best of both worlds.”