Every Step You Take: Tracking Physical Activity at Work and at Home

Nanna Gorm Jensen

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


Technologies built to support activity tracking are growing increasingly ubiquitous. Devices that measure physical activity such as steps, runs, pulse, blood pressure and sleep are marketed with high hopes that consumers will wear them and improve their health. Although research reveals that users do not always engage in sustained tracking, users are now incentivized to engage in activity tracking through insurance schemes, for example, and via workplace health and wellness programs.

This development makes abandonment of self-tracking practices a financial decision, and even when the workplace health and wellness programs do not include financial incentives, the power dynamics involved in workplace settings cannot be ignored. Through an extensive literature review of research in the area, this dissertation shows that the implications of introducing tracking devices in workplace settings have not received due attention. Furthermore, research in self-tracking practices beyond the workplace has so far employed traditional research methods such as interviews and surveys.

Based on the gaps identified in the literature, this dissertation conducts three sets of empirical work: an observational study of a workplace step-counting campaign in a Danish workplace, an interview and survey study among employees in insurance-based health tracking programs in the US, and a 5- month photo-elicitation-based study of Danish self-trackers. These three studies together comprise the core of the dissertation’s five main contributions.

First, this dissertation presents a literature review of 84 qualitative studies of self-tracking practices and provides a roadmap for future research in this field. Second, this dissertation investigates the introduction of activity tracking technologies in workplace settings through observational studies, interviews and surveys, thus providing substantive empirical contributions. Third, in order to conduct longitudinal studies of everyday activity tracking practices, this dissertation further develops participant-driven photo elicitation methods, thus adding valuable methodological considerations to the field. Fourth, the main theoretical contribution of this dissertation is the concept of episodic use. Rather than dismissing episodic use as a problem to be addressed or fixed by improved activity trackers, with the language proposed, episodic use is conceptualized and discussed as a practice rather than a problem.

Finally, the emphasis on episodic use holds practical implications for the introduction of activity trackers in workplace health and wellness programs and beyond. It therefore presents practical suggestions for research and the implementation of activity trackers in the future.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIT-Universitetet i København
Number of pages186
ISBN (Print)978-87-7949-022-2
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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