mHealth Apps Targeting Obesity and Overweight in Young People: App Review and Analysis
JMIR mHealth and uHealth
BACKGROUND: Overweight and obesity have been linked to several serious health problems and medical conditions. With more than a quarter of the young population having weight problems, the impacts of overweight and obesity on this age group are particularly critical. Mobile health (mHealth) apps that support and encourage positive health behaviors have the potential to achieve better health outcomes. These apps represent a unique opportunity for young people (age range 10-24 years), for whom mobile phones are an indispensable part of their everyday living. However, despite the potential of mHealth apps for improved engagement in health interventions, user adherence to these health interventions in the long term is low. OBJECTIVE: The aims of this research were to (1) review and analyze mHealth apps targeting obesity and overweight and (2) propose guidelines for the inclusion of user interface design patterns (UIDPs) in the development of mHealth apps for obese young people that maximizes the impact and retention of behavior change techniques (BCTs). METHODS: A search for apps was conducted in Google Play Store using the following search string: ["best weight loss app for obese teens 2020"] OR ["obesity applications for teens"] OR ["popular weight loss applications"]. The most popular apps available in both Google Play and Apple App Store that fulfilled the requirements within the inclusion criteria were selected for further analysis. The designs of 17 mHealth apps were analyzed for the inclusion of BCTs supported by various UIDPs. Based on the results of the analysis, BCT-UI design guidelines were developed. The usability of the guidelines was presented using a prototype app. RESULTS: The results of our analysis showed that only half of the BCTs are implemented in the reviewed apps, with a subset of those BCTs being supported by UIDPs. Based on these findings, we propose design guidelines that associate the BCTs with UIDPs. The focus of our guidelines is the implementation of BCTs using design patterns that are impactful for the young people demographics. The UIDPs are classified into 6 categories, with each BCT having one or more design patterns appropriate for its implementation. The applicability of the proposed guidelines is presented by mock-ups of the mHealth app "Morphe," intended for young people (age range 10-24 years). The presented use cases showcase the 5 main functionalities of Morphe: learn, challenge, statistics, social interaction, and settings. CONCLUSIONS: The app analysis results showed that the implementation of BCTs using UIDPs is underutilized. The purposed guidelines will help developers in designing mHealth apps for young people that are easy to use and support behavior change. Future steps involve the development and deployment of the Morphe app and the validation of its usability and effectiveness.
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