The Effectiveness of Sequentially Delivered Web-Based Interventions on Promoting Physical Activity and Fruit-Vegetable Consumption Among Chinese College Students: Mixed Methods Study

Yanping Duan*, Wei Liang, Yanping Wang, Sonia Lippke, Zhihua Lin, Borui Shang, Julien Steven Baker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Web-based interventions for multiple health behavior change (MHBC) appear to be a promising approach to change unhealthy habits. Limited research has tested this assumption in promoting physical activity (PA) and fruit-vegetable consumption (FVC) among Chinese college students. Moreover, the timing of MHBC intervention delivery and the order of components need to be addressed. 

Objective: This study aims to examine the effectiveness of 2 sequentially delivered 8-week web-based interventions on physical activity, FVC, and health-related outcomes (BMI, depression, and quality of life) and the differences in the intervention effects between the 2 sequential delivery patterns. The study also aims to explore participants’ experiences of participating in the health program. 

Methods: We conducted a randomized controlled trial, in which 552 eligible college students (mean 19.99, SD 1.04 years, 322/552, 58.3% female) were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: PA-first group (4 weeks of PA followed by 4 weeks of FVC intervention), FVC-first group (4 weeks of FVC followed by 4 weeks of PA intervention), and a control group (8 weeks of placebo treatment unrelated to PA and FVC). The treatment content of two intervention groups was designed based on the Health Action Process Approach (HAPA) framework. A total of four web-based assessments were conducted: at baseline (T1, n=565), after 4 weeks (T2, after the first behavior intervention, n=486), after 8 weeks (T3, after the second behavior intervention, n=420), and after 12 weeks (T4, 1-month postintervention follow-up, n=348). In addition, after the completion of the entire 8-week intervention, 18 participants (mean 19.56, SD 1.04 years, 10/18, 56% female) who completed the whole program were immediately invited to attend one-to-one and face-to-face semistructured interviews. The entire study was conducted during the fall semester of 2017. 

Results: The quantitative data supported superior effects on physical activity, FVC, and BMI in the 2 sequential intervention groups compared with the control group. There were no significant differences in physical activity, FVC, and health-related outcomes between the 2 intervention groups after 8 weeks. The FVC-first group contributed to more maintenance of FVC compared with the PA-first group after 12 weeks. Four major themes with several subthemes were identified in the qualitative thematic analysis: PA and FVC behavior, health-related outcomes, correlates of behavior change, and contamination detection. 

Conclusions: This study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of sequentially delivered, web-based MHBC interventions on PA and FVC among Chinese college students. The timing issue of MHBC intervention delivery was preliminarily addressed. Qualitative findings provide an in-depth understanding and supplement the quantitative findings. Overall, this study may contribute considerably to future web-based MHBC interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere30566
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2022

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Health Informatics

User-Defined Keywords

  • College students
  • Fruit-vegetable consumption
  • Health action process approach
  • Mixed methods
  • Physical activity
  • Qualitative research
  • Quantitative research
  • Web-based intervention


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