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Can technology help you get fit?

Three-year study measures impact of gadgets

A new research project hopes to discover whether websites such as Facebook and gadgets such as mobile phones can encourage consumers to lead healthier lives.

The three-year Charm Project, which will study 800 people and starts in September, will expand upon research by academics Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein that says that how information about lifestyles is presented affects the choices people make.

Head of the project Dr Ruth Rettie told the BBC: "It's about influencing behaviour by telling people what other people do".

"There's quite a lot of evidence that we can influence, not just by nudging, but by informing them about social norms."

The research will be split into three separate trials, one of which features mobile phones that are loaded with software to measure how active the handset's owner is. The software will use the handset's accelerometer and GPS to identify how active users are.

"We're looking at how often people take exercise, or do they prefer to walk to work, or their office, or do they prefer driving?" said Dr Eslambolchilar who is developing the software.

Participants will be told how they compare to others in the study, although it has not been specified yet whether participants will be given the feedback in the form of a text message, website or letter.

The other two trials look at the use of energy in the home and how friends on social networking site Facebook influence each other's behaviour.


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