An adaptive physical activity intervention for overweight adults: A randomized controlled trial

Marc Adams, James F. Sallis, Gregory J. Norman, Melbourne F. Hovell, Eric B. Hekler, Elyse Perata

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


Background: Physical activity (PA) interventions typically include components or doses that are static across participants. Adaptive interventions are dynamic; components or doses change in response to short-term variations in participant's performance. Emerging theory and technologies make adaptive goal setting and feedback interventions feasible. Objective: To test an adaptive intervention for PA based on Operant and Behavior Economic principles and a percentilebased algorithm. The adaptive intervention was hypothesized to result in greater increases in steps per day than the static intervention. Methods: Participants (N = 20) were randomized to one of two 6-month treatments: 1) static intervention (SI) or 2) adaptive intervention (AI). Inactive overweight adults (85% women, M= 36.9±9.2 years, 35% non-white) in both groups received a pedometer, email and text message communication, brief health information, and biweekly motivational prompts. The AI group received daily step goals that adjusted up and down based on the percentile-rank algorithm and micro-incentives for goal attainment. This algorithm adjusted goals based on a moving window; an approach that responded to each individual's performance and ensured goals were always challenging but within participants' abilities. The SI group received a static 10,000 steps/day goal with incentives linked to uploading the pedometer's data. Results: A random-effects repeated-measures model accounted for 180 repeated measures and autocorrelation. After adjusting for covariates, the treatment phase showed greater steps/day relative to the baseline phase (p<.001) and a group by study phase interaction was observed (p =. 017). The SI group increased by 1,598 steps/day on average between baseline and treatment while the AI group increased by 2,728 steps/day on average between baseline and treatment; a significant between-group difference of 1,130 steps/day (Cohen's d =. 74). Conclusions: The adaptive intervention outperformed the static intervention for increasing PA. The adaptive goal and feedback algorithm is a "behavior change technology" that could be incorporated into mHealth technologies and scaled to reach large populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere82901
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 9 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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