Conversational Physical Activity Coaches for Spanish and English Speaking Women: A User Design Study

Caroline A. Figueroa*, Tiffany C. Luo, Andrea Jacobo, Alan Munoz, Minx Manuel, David Chan, John Canny, Adrian Aguilera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: Digital technologies, including text messaging and mobile phone apps, can be leveraged to increase people's physical activity and manage health. Chatbots, powered by artificial intelligence, can automatically interact with individuals through natural conversation. They may be more engaging than one-way messaging interventions. To our knowledge, physical activity chatbots have not been developed with low-income participants, nor in Spanish—the second most dominant language in the U.S. We recommend best practices for physical activity chatbots in English and Spanish for low-income women. Methods: We designed a prototype physical activity text-message based conversational agent based on various psychotherapeutic techniques. We recruited participants through SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education) in California (Alameda County) and Tennessee (Shelby County). We conducted qualitative interviews with participants during testing of our prototype chatbot, held a Wizard of Oz study, and facilitated a co-design workshop in Spanish with a subset of our participants. Results: We included 10 Spanish- and 8 English-speaking women between 27 and 41 years old. The majority was Hispanic/Latina (n = 14), 2 were White and 2 were Black/African American. More than half were monolingual Spanish speakers, and the majority was born outside the US (>50% in Mexico). Most participants were unfamiliar with chatbots and were initially skeptical. After testing our prototype, most users felt positively about health chatbots. They desired a personalized chatbot that addresses their concerns about privacy, and stressed the need for a comprehensive system to also aid with nutrition, health information, stress, and involve family members. Differences between English and monolingual Spanish speakers were found mostly in exercise app use, digital literacy, and the wish for family inclusion. Conclusion: Low-income Spanish- and English-speaking women are interested in using chatbots to improve their physical activity and other health related aspects. Researchers developing health chatbots for this population should focus on issues of digital literacy, app familiarity, linguistic and cultural issues, privacy concerns, and personalization. Designing and testing this intervention for and with this group using co-creation techniques and involving community partners will increase the probability that it will ultimately be effective.
Original languageEnglish
Article number747153
JournalFrontiers in Digital Health
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • chatbots
  • conversational agents
  • digital divide
  • exercise
  • low-income
  • mHealth
  • user-centered design
  • women


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