Student & ECR Spotlight – Dr Laura M König uses smartphone apps to assess and improve eating behavior

Please tell us about your career pathway to date (positions and institutes).

I graduated from the University of Konstanz, Germany, with a BSc in Psychology and a minor in Computer Science in 2014 before obtaining a PhD in Psychology from the same institution in 2018. My PhD was supervised by Prof Britta Renner and was titled “Healthy Pleasures: Integrating Food Well-Being and Simple Eating Behaviour Interventions”. It focused on the development of a novel mobile intervention that promoted healthy eating by prompting participants to eat colorful meals. After I finished my PhD, I stayed in Konstanz for a two-year postdoc.

In March 2020 I joined the Behavioural Science Group at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine. My stay in Cambridge is funded for two years by a research fellowship from the German Research Foundation.

How would you briefly describe your current research/job to someone who is not familiar with your field of study/work? What is your main research interest?

The overarching aim of my research is to develop and test health behavior interventions that are delivered on smartphones. So far, my work has mainly focused on eating behavior interventions, but I am also interested in other behaviors such as physical activity and sedentary behavior.

In Konstanz, I have worked on the development and evaluation of several mobile interventions. My new project in Cambridge will focus on a more methodological question. When we evaluate the effectiveness of mobile health behavior interventions, we often collect behavioral outcome data within the same app. However, the assessment itself might also already have an effect on people’s behavior. This effect is known as measurement reactivity, which I will explore specifically in the context of mobile dietary assessment.

What are the main barriers you encounter/experience when conducting research, or what information/skills do you lack to conduct high quality research?

An important barrier is the recruitment of a diverse study population. In many of the studies I have conducted so far, most participants were students, which means that they are quite young and highly educated. Also, especially when conducting studies on eating behavior, females will be more likely to sign up, and participants are usually quite healthy. I hope that I will be able to recruit participants with more diverse backgrounds in the future, which will strengthen the quality of the findings by increasing generalizability.

What could help you as a student/ECR to further develop/grow in your current position?

One aspect of my job as a researcher that I especially enjoy is exchanging ideas with people from different backgrounds, both culturally and academically. This also allows me to grow as a researcher because it challenges me to think about the theories and methods that I use or the findings of my research in new ways. Also, learning about theories, methods and viewpoints of other disciplines may bring forward new and innovative ideas.

What do you think will be the next most important development in the nutrition and/or physical activity field?

Working in the field of digital health, I am excited to see how developments in technology will impact the design and delivery of interventions in the future. Technology might blend even more into our daily lives, which offers exciting opportunities for behavior change. I am especially intrigued by just-in-time adaptive interventions because they remove some of the burden from the intervention user when forming a new habit.

You can get in touch with Laura via email [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @lauramkoenig