Online Program

A Feasibility Study to Test the Effects of an Embodied Conversational Agent on Addressing Food Security, Access, and Nutrition Knowledge among Urban Women

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Kelly McCue, MPH, BUMC, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Paula Gardiner, MD, MPH, Department of Family Medicine, Boston University Medical Center, Boston, MA
Timothy Bickmore, PhD, College of Computer and Information Science, Northeastern University, Boston, MA

The purpose of this randomized controlled study is to evaluate the feasibility of introducing an innovative eHealth technology called an Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA) to diverse women from an inner city safety net hospital.


In the winter of 2015, we recruited 60 non-gravid women from a primary care clinic at Boston Medical Center, a safety net hospital. We included women between the ages of 18 and 50 who had internet access. Participants were randomized to either 1) interact with an Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA), an innovative computer-based health instructor that discusses nutrition, stress and exercise or 2) receive patient educational materials on the same topics. Enrollment in this study is for one month with a mid-month check-in. Subjects are encouraged to interact with the ECA once per day. Participants complete questionnaires at baseline questionnaire that includes socio-demographic questions and a follow-up questionnaire after one month. Outcome measures include a nutrition knowledge test, a nutrition consumption assessment, and USAID’s Household Food Insecurity and Access Scale. Anticipated data collection will be completed by April 2015.


Age, race, income, and education will be reported. Primary outcomes include nutrition knowledge, nutrition habits, and household food insecurity and access. These measures will be used to assess whether an innovative eHealth intervention can change attitudes and behaviors about food and nutrition compared to standard care among diverse women.


As part of a larger study, this paper will focus specifically on the critical aspects of food security and nutrition knowledge in addition to eHealth technology.  It is important to generate evidence-based eHealth technology, considering the rapid influx of health-related websites and mobile apps. This study will address digital and nutritional disparities within a diverse population.

Learning Areas:

Diversity and culture
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe the function of the Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA). Identify the outcome measures utilized in this study. Compare differences in nutrition behavior changes in women who used the ECA versus women who had standard care.

Keyword(s): Food Security, Nutrition

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I conducted the research and analyzed the data under the supervision of the PI.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.