Approximately two billion people around the world are overweight or obese. Excess weight is associated with both physical and mental health consequences and enormous economic costs, making it one of the biggest health issues of our time. Psychologists at the University of Konstanz and the German Institute of Human Nutrition have shown that app-based mobile interventions can help to counteract this rising obesity epidemic. In a systematic review and meta-analysis of all the evidence currently available in the field of nutrition, they have shown that mobile apps lead to an overall positive effect on both changing nutrition behaviour and nutrition-related health parameters, including obesity indicators such as body weight and several physical health indicators such as cholesterol levels. The study has been published in the scientific journal Obesity Reviews.
Numerous advantages of app‐based mobile interventions
The apps used by people who want to change their eating behaviours are often based on images and information. For example, users may record their eating behaviour by photographing or describing their food within the app, which in turn provides feedback on different aspects such as calories and nutrients. The advantages of app-based mobile interventions are numerous. There are more than five billion smartphones in the world, making it possible for apps to reach many people directly by intervening in “real life” and “real time”. Moreover, since app-based mobile interventions can be interactive, interventions could potentially be tailored to personal needs and different target groups.
Two research teams, Professor Britta Renner’s Psychological Assessment and Health Psychology group and Professor Harald Schupp’s General Biological Psychology group, analysed a total of 41 studies to evaluate the effectiveness of nutrition-related apps. This meta-analysis covered around 6,300 women and men aged between 14 and 68 years, with an average age of 41 years. The authors concluded that “App-based mobile interventions are effective for changing nutrition behaviours and improving nutrition-related health outcomes such as losing weight”.
Positive effects for both healthy and unhealthy people
Since mobile apps had a positive effect for patients as well as healthy people, they can be used to promote healthy behaviour in very different user groups. The researchers also analysed the strategies implemented by around 30 different apps to promote behaviour change in their users. Although they differ in appearance, the apps basically only use four different strategies for changing behaviours: setting goals, giving feedback, providing social support, and making information available. This applies to both commercial apps that are available on the market and apps that are developed in a research context, which do not systematically differ in their effectiveness.
The study shows that app-based mobile interventions have a great potential for changing nutrition behaviours and nutrition-related health outcomes, the technical possibilities they provide are far from being exploited to their full potential as yet.
- Original publication: Karoline Villinger, Deborah R. Wahl, Heiner Boeing, Harald T. Schupp, Britta Renner: The effectiveness of app‐based mobile interventions on nutrition behaviours and nutrition‐related health outcomes: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12903
- Meta-analysis of around 6,300 women and men based on 41 individual studies shows that app-based mobile interventions have a positive effect
- Participating research groups at the University of Konstanz: Psychological Assessment and Health Psychology of Professor Britta Renner and General Biological Psychology of Professor Harald Schupp
- Financially supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG).