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Enhancing digital health engagement to improve health behaviour change intervention effectiveness

   School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

  Dr James Sanders, , Dr Panos Balatsoukas  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Loughborough University is a top-ten rated university in England for research intensity (REF, 2014) and an outstanding 66% of the work of Loughborough’s academic staff who were eligible to be submitted to the REF was judged as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’, compared to a national average figure of 43%.

In choosing Loughborough for your research, you’ll work alongside academics who are leaders in their field. You will benefit from comprehensive support and guidance from our Doctoral College, including tailored careers advice, to help you succeed in your research and future career. Find out more.


Full-time: 3 years

Start date: October 2022

Engagement with digital health behaviour change interventions (DBCI) is considered important for their effectiveness. A positive association between engagement with digital health technologies and several health behaviours such as physical activity has been observed.

However, despite the widespread availability of digital health technologies, like mHealth apps, retention rates are still low and evidence is lacking as to what dimensions of engagement are most strongly associated with intervention effectiveness. Furthermore, there is emerging evidence that there may be a ‘digital divide’ in the sense that digital technologies (and therefore interventions) are mostly designed for individuals with a higher SES, but the individuals with the most to gain are often not included with that group.

Therefore, research is needed to advance our understanding of how best to design digital health behaviour change interventions that are capable of sustaining engagement. Building on previous research conducted by the primary supervisor investigating the current methods used to measure engagement with mHealth tools, this PhD aims to:

  1. Develop a consensus framework for the measurement and reporting of mHealth engagement during DBCI
  2. Assess what dimensions of engagement (e.g. attention, interest, affect, amount, duration, frequency, depth) are most strongly associated with intervention effectiveness (both short term and long term and across study populations e.g. older adults, low SES)
  3. Establish a benchmark for the optimal dose of engagement across different kinds of digital health behaviour change interventions. This would involve assessing the effectiveness of different dimensions of engagement, and their interaction, and suggest threshold effects
  4. Whether the context of use influences engagement with DBCI.


Primary supervisor: Dr James Sanders

Secondary supervisors: Dr David MaidmentDr Panos Balatsoukas, Dr Andrew Kingsnorth


Our entry requirements are listed using standard UK undergraduate degree classifications i.e. first-class honours, upper second-class honours and lower second-class honours.

Entry requirements for United Kingdom

Applicants should have, or expect to achieve, at least a 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent) in Sport and Exercise Science, Exercise Physiology, Human Biology, Behavioural Science or a related subject.

A relevant Master’s degree and/or experience in one or more of the following will be an advantage: Exercise as medicine, physical activity and health, sport and exercise science, wearable technology, behavioural medicine and health psychology.

English language requirements

Applicants must meet the minimum English language requirements. Further details are available on the International website.

Find out more about research degree funding


All applications should be made online. Under programme name, select 'Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences'. Please quote the advertised reference number SSEHS/JSND in your application. To avoid delays in processing your application please ensure that you submit the minimum supporting documents.

Apply now

Funding Notes

UK FEE: £4,500 - Full-time degree per annum
INTERNATIONAL FEE: £24,100 - Full-time degree per annum
Tuition fees cover the cost of your teaching, assessment and operating University facilities such as the library, IT equipment and other support services. University fees and charges can be paid in advance and there are several methods of payment, including online payments and payment by instalment. Fees are reviewed annually and are likely to increase to take into account inflationary pressures.

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