Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Mass Communication and Media Arts
The recent proliferation and adoption of smartphones has resulted in the widespread use of mobile applications. Mobile applications, or apps, are small programs that are designed to run on smartphones and mobile devices for providing information on a wide range of topics addressing the varied needs of an individual. Health apps are one of the more popular categories of apps that are used extensively among people who are interested in health and fitness. Apps in this category focus on topics such as diet, nutrition, fitness, and weight loss. This study examined popular, free weight loss health applications available in Apple iTunes (iOS) and Google Play (Android) to identify their characteristics and adherence to national health guidelines. A total of 89 weight loss apps across both platforms were selected for the content analysis. Each app was coded to examine the general characteristics and the presence of features such as interactivity, adherence to evidence-informed practices and health guidelines, user engagement, and credibility of health information. Descriptive statistics such as frequencies and percentages were calculated once the coding was done. Perhaps the most important finding of the study was that no single app completely adhered to all the health guidelines or evidence-informed practices outlined by national health agencies. However, there were some apps that showed high levels of adherence in certain categories. The study further indicated that weight loss apps are designed more for people interested in physical fitness and training and less for people who are trying diet and nutrition to lose weight. A majority of the apps analyzed did not adhere to evidence-informed practices, did not follow the clinical 10-step guidelines for treatment of weight loss recommended by national health agencies, and failed to meet HON (Health on the Net) standards for credibility. E-mail was the preferred form of communication present in all the apps, and interactive features were under utilized by app developers. This study found that mobile app developers make minimal use of theory-driven components in their app design. The provision to track user progress was the most employed user engagement (66%), followed by facilitating goal setting (53%), and self-monitoring (51%). Of all the 89 apps analyzed, the study found only one app with health professional input, seriously highlighting the need for involvement of health professionals in app design and development. Weight loss through mobile apps has a lot of potential for growth in terms of incorporating interactive features, theory-driven content, evidence-informed practices, and credibility of health information. While there is much emphasis on improving the functionality and features of apps, it is also important that health professionals with an understanding and knowledge of national health guidelines need to be actively involved in developing apps that are tailored, appropriate, and relevant for those interested in losing weight. There needs to be more initiatives where app developers, health professionals and agencies, avid app users, nongovernmental organizations, and policy makers come together and help address some of the issues highlighted in this study.
This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.