Can a smartphone app help us stay physically active?
In their research article titled “Long-term effectiveness of mHealth physical activity interventions: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials“, the authors Annette Mönninghoff, Jan Niklas Kramer, Alexander Hess, Kamila Ismailova, Gisbert Teepe, Lorainne Tudor Car, Falk Müller-Riemenschneider, and Tobias Kowatsch, analysed existing studies on digital interventions aimed at increasing physical activity.
The authors were interested in this topic as physical inactivity has been identified by the WHO as a core modifiable risk factor for non-communicable diseases. Mönninghoff et al. explored the question of how effective mobile interventions for physical activity (PA) are in the long-term. Current research so far fails to conclusively show an effect of digital interventions for physical activities, highlighting the need for systematic reviews and additional long-term research studies.
In their research project, the authors looked at studies that used mHealth interventions, defined as “programs that fully or partly deliver interventions using mobile technology such as pedometers or accelerometers with displays, activity trackers, smartphones, or tablets”. Using rigorous methodology, the authors were able to include 117 studies in their meta-analysis – a relatively large number of studies. Mönninghoff et al. found that despite performing subgroup analyses, they still had significant heterogeneity in their results. Despite this, the authors were able to arrive at the conclusion that based on their meta-analysis, scalable digital interventions have the potential to moderately increase PA in adults, both compared with alternative nonmobile control groups and no or minimal control groups. These increases in physical activity levels tend to be maintained in follow-up measurements but decrease over time. Regarding differences in populations, the authors identifies that mHealth interventions are more effective in sick and at-risk populations compared with healthy population samples.
Mönninghoff, A., Kramer, J., Hess, A.J., Ismailova, K., Teepe, G., Tudor Car, L., Müller-Riemenschneider, F., Kowatsch, T., Long-term effectiveness of mHealth physical activity interventions: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials, Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) 23(4):e26699, 10.2196/26699. [PDF]