The surge in obesity in
the United States is a major public health crisis for children, parents, families,
communities, and the future of the nation. Obese children are at risk of living
shorter lives than their parents; obese parents risk often preventable health
complications (e.g., type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer). Obesity
is associated with environments that promote increased food intake, unhealthy
foods, and physical inactivity. Socio-ecological design deals with broad societal problems, such as obesity or other chronic diseases that require an encompassing approach. A broad theoretical perspective helps designers to grasp the boundaries of the design problem and strategic design opportunities.
The term socio-ecological design is new to designers, even though, socio-ecological
perspective is often used in public health research. It provides designers a theoretical framework to frame design opportunities and propose integrated systems level solutions. From such a perspective,
there are five contexts or levels that are associated with socio-ecological aspects of people’s health:
individual context, interpersonal context, organizational context, community
context, and public policy context. At the individual level, choices may be
based in people’s attitude, values, and intentions. At the interpersonal level,
people’s choices may be influenced by relationships (e.g. family, friends,
peers, and co-workers). At the organizational level, people’s choices may be
affected by rules, policies, procedures, and incentives in organizations (e.g.,
schools, family support centers, and family health clinics). At the community
level, people’s choices may reflect social norms, social networks, standards
and practices. Finally, at the public policy level, people’s choices may be
linked to government policies, regulations and laws at many levels (i.e.,
local, state, and federal).
I posit that socio-ecological design is useful to organize and strategize concerted design action for societal scale problems such as obesity prevention. I am exploring the theoretical implications of socio-ecological design with Kristin Hughes on the Fitwits research project in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon
Hughes, K., Scupelli, P., Fidler, S., & McGaffey, A. (2010) Think, Make, Evaluate, (Evolve) : Designing participatory tools to better understand how to help physicians communicate with families about obesity. A case study in sustainable co-design. Challenges and Opportunities for Design Research, Education and Practice in the XXI Century. LeNS Conference, Bangalore, 29th September to 1st October 2010.
Scupelli, P. & Hughes, K. (2010) Get Fit with the Fitwits: Co-design
linked to increased participation in health literacy game.
Hughes, K., & Scupelli, P., (2011) Emerge, disseminate, evolve:
Three phases to sustainable co-design.
Scupelli, P. (2011) Get Fit with the Fitwits: A Six-Week Community Game
Evaluated. Heinz Endowments evaluation
Scupelli, P. (2011) I AM Fitwits: an evaluation of a school-based obesity
prevention game. Heinz Endowments