Martin O’Neill and Parisa Eslambolchilar have a shared interest in the role that information technology can play in social and community development. The Digital Dieters project was proposed to explore how mobile technology can be used to encourage increased physical activity and a healthier lifestyle in a community that is classified as disadvantaged.
Martin and Parisa worked in partnership with an already established healthier eating programme, run by the Development Trust. They aimed to make the link between diet and exercise clearer and to encourage and support weight management and weight loss.
The project aimed to develop realistic models of physical activity that fit in with peoples’ capabilities and family circumstances, and to monitor and evaluate what helps people to achieve their goals and to understand what does not.
At the end of the initial research period, there was a very positive reaction with a number of the volunteers responding “I love my mobile phone”.
The group unequivocally reported that the initiative and the app had increased activity levels; during the focus group volunteers reported comments like: “I started walking to the shops, I have never done that.” Additionally, coming together in the initiative had led to other developments; one volunteer recounted: “We started cooking more healthily as well.” During the course of the research some of the group have reported losing up to a stone in weight over a two month period.