ASU professor acknowledged for focusing on mHealth obesity interventions


Lynne MacDonald

Dr. Heewon Kim, assistant professor in the Hugh Downs School, has been awarded the 2017 Health in the Social Sciences Award from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Dr. Kim 's project focuses on re-designing mHealth obesity interventions, specifically developing an adaptive mobile coaching program for at-risk populations, drawing on a tailored health communication approach.

It is well known that obesity leads to numerous preventable chronic diseases. With 36% of all adults considered obese and additional 34% considered overweight, obesity interventions are quickly becoming an important area of research. Given that people continue to struggle to enact healthy lifestyles, Dr. Kim believes it is critical to find a way to develop more effective obesity intervention programs.

mHealth intervention has recently received substantial attention because of its accessibility, effectiveness, and the possibility for personalization.

Since the use of the smartphone is now intertwined with our everyday lives, researchers like Dr. Kim believe the use of a mHealth application can be easily integrated into an individuals' day-to-day routine which can help with more effective lifestyle changes.

What exactly is mHealth? The National Institute defines mHealth (mobile health) as the “delivery of healthcare services via mobile communication devices.” The most common application if mHealth is through the use of mobile phones, tablets, and other multi-media communication devices.

Dr. Kim believes a tailored health communication approach in an intervention program for at-risk populations is essential.  She believes that research such as hers can significantly contribute to refining mHealth programs for diverse populations, including high-risk groups.

Most current mHealth interventions do not consider the differential characteristics of at-risk populations, risk factors such as race, ethnicity, and age.  Features of mHealth applications currently being used target “general” users and are universal across the different products.

“To reach out to diverse individuals and groups, it is important to tailor existing intervention programs to better serve the needs of both an individual and a group,” Kim stated.

Kim’s re-design of an adaptive mobile coaching program will be different.

“Each individual may have different levels of self-efficacy or social support that could make an impact on the outcomes of interventions. The mHealth intervention that we have been developing will take into account these factors to offer advanced programs tailored for their needs.” Kim stated.

Kim has also received an Institute for Social Science Research seed grant for her research, ‘Adaptive obesity interventions for high-risk populations using tailored mobile coaching’. This grant is particularly meaningful for Kim because most of the funds will be used to hire two research assistants over the summer.  Seed grant recipients must submit a proposal to an external funding agency within 6 months of receiving the award.  Dr. Kim is planning to submit her grant to NIH after the summer break.

The Health in the Social Sciences Award from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences was open to all assistant professors across the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and designed to support junior faculty with a research project during the summer break.