USC and VSP Global’s Innovation Lab Launch Study to Take Wearable Digital Health Technology to Eye Level

UPDATE: USC and VSP Global® conduct first research to explore motivational factors and discover digital coaching, social networks, charitable giving, life satisfaction help maintain or raise activity levels up to 25 percent

Contact: Sherri Snelling at (949) 887-1903 or

LOS ANGELES, September 14, 2017 — The first study to look at motivators for consistent or increased activity engagement among fitness tracker wearable users was published in the NEJM Catalyst (New England Journal of Medicine Group) from research conducted by the University of Southern California (USC) Center for Body Computing (CBC) and VSP Global’s innovation lab, The Shop. The innovative study, using a prototype of VSP’s unique LevelTM smart glasses, found interaction with social networks and use of digital coaches via a smartphone app connected to a biometric sensor embedded in eyeglasses provided incentive for users to increase activity, including an average 20-25 percent spike in daily steps when prompted by a digital coach.

Digital Coaches, Social Networks and Charitable Giving

Researchers found study participants were motivated by digital coaching using text message prompts sent at pre-determined times to encourage daily step goals. The digital coaching correlated with increased activity—whether tied to personal goals or altruistic goals—and encouraged daily activity with higher step counts of 7,389 average daily steps compared to only 5,924 steps without the prompts and messages. The participants also received support from the app’s social network, with individual users acting as cheerleaders that supplemented the digital coaches. The number of Friends, Likes and Comments were strong predictors of greater activity, according to researchers.

Researchers also designed the study with the hypothesis that users would maintain daily activity if the rewards were not just tied to personal goals but were also connected to charitable giving. The app synched with VSP’s Eyes of Hope® initiative, where study participants accrued points based on reaching daily step goals. Once a certain number of points were achieved, the user triggered the donation of a comprehensive eye exam and pair of glasses to an individual in need among four demographics: school-age children, seniors, veterans or individuals affected by homelessness. Participants who reported being motivated by charitable giving had higher activity levels throughout the study—averaging 700 additional daily steps per degree of charitable motivation.

“One in every five Americans wears a health tracker but there was no research that took a look at what motivates engagement, until now,” said Leslie Saxon, MD, founder and executive director of the USC CBC who led the research effort. “Since the average study participant fell into a group considered overweight—which can lead to increasing health issues such as diabetes and heart disease—it was illuminating to find digital coaching via the app and an altruistic connection helped these participants maintain their engagement or even increase their activity in some areas.”

Diversity and Personality Dominate Unique Study Cohort

The 12-week study was conducted among 284 USC beneficiary employees who provided a diverse cohort for researchers in the single-center longitudinal observational study. Participants, all of whom were daily prescription eyeglass wearers, ranged in age from 18 to 79. The cohort also represented a wide variety of racial backgrounds (36 percent Caucasian; 10 percent African American; 27 percent Latino; 20 percent Asian American; two percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander; four percent Other) and a uniquely large representation of women (61 percent vs. 39 percent men) compared to other wearable fitness tracker research. When it came to health status, the group had an average mean body mass index (BMI) of 28, which falls into the category of being overweight (between 18.5- 24.9 is considered normal weight and over 30 is considered obese).

In addition to the digital coaching, social networks and philanthropic connection providing increased engagement, researchers found older age participants—63 percent were over age 40—along with higher life satisfaction scores also predicted higher activity levels and were factors in consistent engagement. On the Satisfaction with Life scale, those who demonstrated higher emotional stability, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness were more likely to exercise regularly.

“While we cannot say we’ve cracked the code for long-term motivation of physical activity, we still learned a tremendous amount: digital prompts, social support, philanthropy, older age, and life satisfaction created the most impact in motivating our participants,” said Glenn Fox, PhD, Head of Design, Strategy and Outreach at the USC Performance Science Institute, who was part of the team to create the study design and conduct the analysis of the participants. “We now know these are all keys to increased engagement with fitness trackers and deserve further investigation.”

Biometric Sensor Seamlessly Embedded in Eyeglasses Eased Use

Saxon also acknowledged the seamlessness of having a sensor built into a form factor participants wore every day—prescription eyeglasses—was a key motivator for participants. Referencing the ease of not having to remember to put on a separate wearable, the fashionable and comfortable eyewear design, and the simple charging mechanism, participants embraced these aspects of the Level smart glasses as an ideal wearable for activity tracking.

“In many ways, the Level prototype combines all the unique capabilities of VSP Global, including eyewear design and manufacturing, eye care, optics, technology and charitable giving,” said Jay Sales, co-director of VSP’s innovation lab, The Shop. “Partnering with the USC Center for Body Computing gave this project a degree of academic rigor and multidisciplinary input that was needed to truly understand this platform. Our team can now take these critical learnings and apply them to future iterations of Level.”

Gloria Chiu, OD, FAAO, FSLS, who led the study’s eye care team for the USC Roski Eye Institute, stated, “Refractive errors and uncorrectable vision impairment are positively associated with poor self-assessed health and poor psychological health in some populations.”

As part of his recent research finding visual impairment and blindness prevalence will double in the U.S. by 2050 due to uncorrected refractive errors, Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, said, “If we can address uncorrected vision impairment and encourage healthier behavior through the use of digital tools such as the Level smart glasses, this is the future we envision and want to encourage.

“This study is another data point that USC’s research partnerships with innovators such as VSP Global are helping to identify novel ways we can create a new era in health care by empowering patients,” added Varma.

Juniper Research has identified Smart Glasses as the highest growth sector of the consumer wearables segment over the next five years, reaching 11 percent of the overall wearables market by 2021. This is during a time when categories such as smartwatches and fitness wearables have begun to slow.

USC Center for Body Computing leads study on health outcomes tied to philanthropy;
USC Roski Eye Institute provides expert eye exams and prescriptions

Sherri Snelling at (949)887-1903 or

LOS ANGELES, September 1, 2016 — As part of its continued national leadership in digital health technology innovation and public+private collaborations, the University of Southern California (USC) Center for Body Computing (CBC) has teamed with VSP Global’s innovation lab, The Shop, and the USC Roski Eye Institute to take wearable health for the first time to the eyes. The pilot study, which kicked off at an event on August 27 at USC, will assess the users’ engagement with and feedback of the smartphone app synched to the embedded sensor in the first-of-its-kind prototype optical frame, LevelTM, created by The Shop.

The study comprised of USC employee daily eyeglass wearers has participants tracking a wearer’s steps, calories burned, distance traveled and activity time. The biometrics are tracked by technology seamlessly embedded in the temple of the frame – including an accelerometer, a magnetometer and a gyroscope – and synched wirelessly via Bluetooth to an accompanying smartphone app. USC Roski Eye Institute is the optometric care partner in the study having its ophthalmologists and optometrists at its USC clinics on the school’s main campus and health sciences campus perform the eye exams and ensure accurate prescriptions for the study participants.


The app will synch with VSP Global’s Eyes of Hope® initiative where study participants will accrue points based on reaching daily step goals. Once a certain number of points are achieved, the user will trigger the donation of a comprehensive eye exam and pair of glasses to someone in need. Participants are able to choose a charity of their choice for the donation among seniors, school-age children, veterans or the homeless population.

“In this next phase of our continued collaboration with VSP we’re thrilled to be partnering with them to maximize the wearable sensor in eyeglasses by engaging wearers in improved health fueled by philanthropic endeavors,” said Leslie Saxon, MD, founder and executive director of the USC Center for Body Computing. “We’re using the eyes as a window into the soul and the heart – it’s a testament to the power of digital tools to improve health and improve the world at the same time.”

“Not only is Level a unique health-tracking technology that fuses function, fashion and digital health in a platform as common as eyewear, our collaboration with USC will also allow VSP to study Level in the
context of increasing health and wellness outcomes while creating empathy and opportunity for someone in need,” said Jay Sales, co-director of VSP Global’s The Shop. “As a community-based not-for-profit, that interplay is core to who we are as a company.”

“Offering our patients digital health tools and wearable technology in our eye clinics is the wave of the future,” said Rohit Varma, MD, MPH. “As one of the key medical partners in the USC CBC’s Virtual Care Clinic, we’re proud to be at the forefront of digital health innovation led by Dr. Leslie Saxon and her team. The USC CBC is a showcase of how the multidisciplinary experts at USC in medicine, science, technology, engineering, entertainment, athletics, etc. are partnering with innovative partners such as VSP Global to change health behavior and empower patients.”

Assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology and chief optometrist, Gloria Chiu, OD, FAAO, FSLS, who led the study’s eye care team for the USC Roski Eye Institute, feels that having a digital health sensor embedded in eyeglasses is going to show more reliability and consistency in biometric measurements as opposed to wrist-based wearables. She shared that users may forget to wear a wristband or have vigorous hand movement that can be misinterpreted as steps whereas eyeglasses are something you have to wear every day and are more stable on the temple.

One of the study participants, Albert Jacobs, who works at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at USC, received his Level glasses at the event and said, “I have a keen interest in wearable technology but I don’t like wearing ‘jewelry’ or things on my wrist so finally with something incorporated into my glasses – this is exactly what I was looking for.” Jacobs added, “I love tracking my health and while my phone does a great job I feel like sometimes it’s not as accurate so when I heard about this Level program I thought ‘This is perfect.’”


Chiu added the USC study participants were enthusiastic in choosing their frames among three unisex styles named after some of history’s greatest innovators, including Nikola Tesla, Marvin Minsky and Hedy Lamarr. She said the Minsky style appeared to be the most popular choice.

In 2015, VSP Global and USC Center for Body Computing formed a partnership to harness the multidisciplinary experts in digital health technology and medicine/science to collaborate with The Shop on Level (then known as Project Genesis) to engineer the future versions of the frame and evolve the platform. The USC study is the first step in an ongoing partnership between USC CBC and VSP Global.

Founded in 2007 as one of the nation’s first digital health innovation centers, the USC CBC functions as an interdisciplinary brain trust and innovation center within the Keck Medicine of USC medical enterprise. Member organizations are given access to experts in medicine, business, engineering and entertainment to better navigate the complex and evolving world of wireless and wearable healthcare.


Watch the videos:
USC Study Participants receive their Level Frames
VSP Global’s The Shop on collaborating with USC

Learn more about the USC Center for Body Computing:
Learn more about VSP Global:
Learn more about VSP Global’s The Shop:

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