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An Online Social Network to Increase Walking in Dog Owners: A Randomized Trial

SCHNEIDER, KRISTIN L.1; MURPHY, DEIRDRA2; FERRARA, CYNTHIA2; OLESKI, JESSICA3; PANZA, EMILY4; SAVAGE, CLARA5; GADA, KIMBERLY2; BOZZELLA, BRIANNE2; OLENDZKI, EFFIE3; KERN, DANIEL1; LEMON, STEPHENIE C.3

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2015 - Volume 47 - Issue 3 - p 631–639
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000441
Applied Sciences

Purpose: Encouraging dog walking may increase physical activity in dog owners. This cluster-randomized controlled trial investigated whether a social networking Web site (Meetup™) could be used to deliver a multicomponent dog walking intervention to increase physical activity.

Methods: Sedentary dog owners (n = 102) participated. Eight neighborhoods were randomly assigned to the Meetup™ condition (Meetup™) or a condition where participants received monthly e-mails with content from the American Heart Association regarding increasing physical activity. The Meetup™ intervention was delivered over 6 months and consisted of newsletters, dog walks, community events, and an activity monitor. The primary outcome was steps; secondary outcomes included social support for walking, sense of community, perceived dog walking outcomes, barriers to dog walking, and feasibility of the intervention.

Results: Mixed-model analyses examined change from baseline to postintervention (6 months) and whether change in outcomes differed by condition. Daily steps increased over time (P = 0.04, d = 0.28), with no differences by condition. The time–condition interaction was significant for the perceived outcomes of dog walking (P = 0.04, d = 0.40), such that the Meetup™ condition reported an increase in the perceived positive outcomes of dog walking, whereas the American Heart Association condition did not. Social support, sense of community, and dog walking barriers did not significantly change. Meetup™ logins averaged 58.38 per week (SD, 11.62). Within 2 months of the intervention ending, organization of the Meetup™ groups transitioned from the study staff to Meetup™ members.

Conclusions: Results suggest that a Meetup™ group is feasible for increasing physical activity in dog owners. Further research is needed to understand how to increase participation in the Meetup™ group and facilitate greater connection among dog owners.

1Department of Psychology, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, North Chicago, IL; 2Department of Physical Therapy, University of Massachusetts—Lowell, Lowell, MA; 3Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester MA; 4Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ; and 5Common Pathways, Worcester, MA

Address for correspondence: Kristin L. Schneider, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Rosalind Franklin University, 3333 Green Bay Road, North Chicago, IL 60064; E-mail: kristin.schneider@rosalindfranklin.edu.

Submitted for publication December 2013.

Accepted for publication May 2014.

© 2015 American College of Sports Medicine