Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Computer Science

First Advisor

Tamara Sumner

Second Advisor

Katie A. Siek

Third Advisor

Tiffany Veinot

Fourth Advisor

Ben Kirshner

Fifth Advisor

Angela Bryan

Abstract

Food plays an important role in people's health and well being. Eating a healthy diet can improve overall health and reduce the likelihood of developing chronic illness. Although technology has shown promise in supporting healthy eating, more recent research has revealed that sociotechnical interventions may only have small, short-term effects on behavior. There are certainly many factors that influence people's eating behaviors including educational level, knowledge of cooking, self-efficacy, one's upbringing, and personal values. Sociotechnical interventions have primarily focused on psychosocial factors (e.g., self-efficacy, knowledge, values), overlooking environmental influences - those external to an individual that create the context in which behaviors take place. These environmental factors, such as the availability of healthy food and the prevalence of healthy and unhealthy food outlets, have a major influence on eating behavior, however few studies have considered the role that technology might play in addressing them.

This dissertation works at the intersection of technology and health behavior theory to understand how we can create effective healthy eating interventions and support people in engaging with their environment in a way that facilitates healthy eating. We built an Android application, Snack Buddy, to serve as a probe to explore the factors that affect people's eating behaviors. In doing so, we found that the environment was the most salient factor, leading us to further explore the role technology can play in helping people create healthier food environments for themselves. We discovered technology could support people in environmental restructuring -- the practice of creating an environment supportive of healthy eating -- and in navigating the constraints in their lives that prevent them from accessing healthy food. This last issue was especially important for people with low socioeconomic status and people who experience food insecurity. For these people, technology presents an opportunity to facilitate greater participation in how food environments are architected and created, while at the same time expanding their own capacity to access healthy food. This dissertation finds that technology can expand their capacity by helping them exercise greater control in their lives and expand their social support network with people who face similar challenges.

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