How Mobile Apps Changed Health & Wellness Habits

Mobile apps that track nutrition, weight, exercise habits and more allow users to gather data as a tool for a healthier lifestyle.

Smartphones and other mobile devices have changed just about everything in our daily lives, including the way we approach health, fitness, nutrition and overall wellness.

According to a 2015 study by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, more than 165,000 health-related apps are available for download on Apple iTunes and the Android app store. That was more than double the number available in 2013.

Another 2015 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that 64% of the overall population in the United States (and 82% of people 18-49) owned a mobile phone with the ability to download apps. The same study found that 58.2% of people surveyed had downloaded at least one health-related app, and 41.6% of respondents had downloaded more than five such apps.

Those apps can help, at least in the short term. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) in August 2016, “Internet and mobile interventions improve important lifestyle behaviors up to one year.”

The JAHA study stopped short of a long-range conclusion because there is not enough long-range data, but it showed that over a relatively short period of time, better health and wellness habits are developed when people keep track of their progress using an app or apps.

In short, the research shows us:

  • There are many apps available to help people keep up with the miles they run, the pounds they lift and lose, the calories they consume, the hours they sleep, and much more health-related data.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans have access to health and wellness apps, and more than half of those people downloaded at least one health app.
  • Health and wellness apps work, at least for a little while.

Managing Health Risk Factors

The authors of the 2016 JAHA study based their research on risk factors for non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease), which accounted for 65% of deaths in 2010. The study was built on the established fact that “sub-optimal” lifestyle choices contribute to elevated risk factors and increased incidence of potentially fatal non-communicable diseases.

Lifestyle-related risk factors taken into account included:

  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Morbid obesity
  • Tobacco use
  • Excess alcohol use

Poor diet, physical inactivity and obesity are key drivers for users to download and use digital health and wellness apps, according to the NIH study. Respondents said they wanted apps that could assess their personal health history, help them measure daily caloric intake, help them establish an exercise routine, and help them stay motivated to lose weight.

Respondents to the NIH survey also said they want health apps that helped them communicate with their physicians or other healthcare providers. The respondents’ health app wish list included the ability to view and share health records, the ability to make appointments and the ability to easily check lab results and other information.

Still others responded that they want apps that allow them to monitor and record vital signs, such as blood pressure, and to make instant self-diagnoses based on a list of symptoms.

Not For Everybody, But Still Growing

As popular as health and wellness apps have become, the NIH study showed that 42% of potential users had never downloaded such apps.

Here are a few reasons respondents gave for not downloading health apps:

  • Prohibitive cost
  • Mistrust of data collection
  • Concern about phone data plan overages
  • No need for them

Also, the NIH study found that 45.7% of the people who downloaded at least one health-related app stopped using it not long after download. As it turned out, many experimental users discovered that they did not enjoy entering data every day, or they merely lost interest.

Still, the authors of the NIH study concluded that as developers find ways to overcome shortcomings with data entry, privacy concerns, and relatively limited functionality, the use of health and wellness apps will continue to increase.


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