Smartphone-based interventions for physical activity promotion: Scoping review of the evidence over the last 10 years

Alex Domin*, Donna Spruijt-Metz, Daniel Theisen, Yacine Ouzzahra, Claus Vögele

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: Several reviews of mobile health (mHealth) physical activity (PA) interventions suggest their beneficial effects on behavior change in adolescents and adults. Owing to the ubiquitous presence of smartphones, their use in mHealth PA interventions seems obvious; nevertheless, there are gaps in the literature on the evaluation reporting processes and best practices of such interventions. Objective: The primary objective of this review is to analyze the development and evaluation trajectory of smartphone-based mHealth PA interventions and to review systematic theory- and evidence-based practices and methods that are implemented along this trajectory. The secondary objective is to identify the range of evidence (both quantitative and qualitative) available on smartphone-based mHealth PA interventions to provide a comprehensive tabular and narrative review of the available literature in terms of its nature, features, and volume. Methods: We conducted a scoping review of qualitative and quantitative studies examining smartphone-based PA interventions published between 2008 and 2018. In line with scoping review guidelines, studies were not rejected based on their research design or quality. This review, therefore, includes experimental and descriptive studies, as well as reviews addressing smartphone-based mHealth interventions aimed at promoting PA in all age groups (with a subanalysis conducted for adolescents). Two groups of studies were additionally included: reviews or content analyses of PA trackers and meta-analyses exploring behavior change techniques and their efficacy. Results: Included articles (N=148) were categorized into 10 groups: commercial smartphone app content analyses, smartphone-based intervention review studies, activity tracker content analyses, activity tracker review studies, meta-analyses of PA intervention studies, smartphone-based intervention studies, qualitative formative studies, app development descriptive studies, qualitative follow-up studies, and other related articles. Only 24 articles targeted children or adolescents (age range: 5-19 years). There is no agreed evaluation framework or taxonomy to code or report smartphone-based PA interventions. Researchers did not state the coding method, used various evaluation frameworks, or used different versions of behavior change technique taxonomies. In addition, there is no consensus on the best behavior change theory or model that should be used in smartphone-based interventions for PA promotion. Commonly reported systematic practices and methods have been successfully identified. They include PA recommendations, trial designs (randomized controlled trials, experimental trials, and rapid design trials), mixed methods data collection (surveys, questionnaires, interviews, and focus group discussions), scales to assess app quality, and industry-recognized reporting guidelines. Conclusions: Smartphone-based mHealth interventions aimed at promoting PA showed promising results for behavior change. Although there is a plethora of published studies on the adult target group, the number of studies and consequently the evidence base for adolescents is limited. Overall, the efficacy of smartphone-based mHealth PA interventions can be considerably improved through a more systematic approach of developing, reporting, and coding of the interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere24308
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Volume9
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Adolescents
  • Adolescents
  • Adults
  • Adults
  • BCT
  • BCT
  • Behavior change
  • Behavior change
  • MHealth
  • MHealth
  • Mobile health
  • Mobile health
  • Mobile phone
  • Mobile phonescoping review
  • Physical activity
  • Physical activity
  • Research design
  • Research design
  • Scoping review
  • Smartphone application
  • Smartphone application

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