Harnessing the Small Victories: Goal Design Strategies for a Mobile Calorie and Weight Loss Tracking Application

47 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2017 Last revised: 27 Nov 2018

See all articles by Kosuke Uetake

Kosuke Uetake

Yale School of Management

Nathan Yang

Cornell University

Date Written: November 26, 2018


We investigate the role of small victories, in the form of short-term goal achievements, on long-term health outcomes. Using novel large-scale data from a popular mobile calorie and weight management application, we track the daily health outcomes across a large number of users. The application sets a salient daily budget for calories, and by comparing cases in which the users are under versus over-budget, we document empirical patterns about the role of reference-dependence calorie consumption and future weight loss. Motivated by these patterns, we estimate a dynamic structural model of calorie consumption with reference-dependent utility and serial correlation to evaluate various hypothetical goal design schemes. First, we show that adaptive goal designs are more effective at encouraging disciplined calorie consumption than goal designs that are uniformly applied to all users. Second, our analysis of goal personalization reveals that users with high initial BMI may benefit the most from challenging goals. Third, we demonstrate that exposing users to a variety of means towards goal achievement may be worthwhile.

Keywords: Customer Development; Gamification; Goal Design; Health Education; Machine Learning; Mobile Application; Particle Filtering; Precision Health Retailing; Reference Points

Suggested Citation

Uetake, Kosuke and Yang, Nathan, Harnessing the Small Victories: Goal Design Strategies for a Mobile Calorie and Weight Loss Tracking Application (November 26, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2928441 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2928441

Kosuke Uetake (Contact Author)

Yale School of Management ( email )

135 Prospect Street
P.O. Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States

Nathan Yang

Cornell University ( email )

Dyson School, Warren Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-6201
United States
6072551590 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://dyson.cornell.edu/faculty-research/faculty/ncy6/

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