Utilising bespoke technology to assist people with intellectual disabilities in self-managing their weight
: blending a Health Psychology and Behaviour Analytic approach

  • Laura Skelly

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Overweight is an on-going health challenge disproportionately experienced by people with an intellectual disability (ID). Emerging literature indicates that multi-component interventions are most effective at reducing obesity in this population. The systematic review in Chapter 2 supports this view and proposes a specific ‘Component Guideline’ to be utilised to structure future research. Mobile app technology has been developed to support weight management however, existing off-the-shelf weight management apps remain too complex for many people with an ID. This research is a pilot of ‘The HealthyTaps Programme’, an ID specific health promotion series and multi-component weight management programme utilising bespoke mobile app technology to support self-management. A series of focus groups explored the knowledge-base and lived experiences of adults with ID with regards to diet, exercise, and technology. The main findings were that research and practice would benefit from understanding the influence that internalisation of health promotion messages, effective external reinforcement systems, and positive feedback can have to support the adoption of healthier habits. Essential components in technology use for people with an ID were found to be ownership, education, support, regular access, and regular use. The findings informed the design of ‘The HealthyTaps Programme’. The pilot study of ‘The HealthyTaps Programme’ with 28 adults with ID achieved mean weight losses of -3.9%. Thirty-two percent of participants lost over -5% of their body weight which is clinically significant, and which exceeds the NICE (2014a) guidelines for effective interventions for the general population. A replication study with 11 adults with ID, also reported in this thesis, achieved mean weight losses of -4.0%, and 27% of the participants with ≥ -5% weight loss, demonstrating reliability in the intervention effects. These are extremely promising initial results that warrant further exploration, ideally with a more robust design such as a randomised control trial of The HealthyTaps Programme.
Date of AwardOct 2020
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment of Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland
SupervisorJulian Leslie (Supervisor), Claire McDowell (Supervisor) & Mark Donnelly (Supervisor)


  • HealthyTaps
  • Weight loss
  • Facilitators
  • Barriers

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