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Apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents : a review of quality, features and behaviour change techniques

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Abstract
Background: The number of commercial apps to improve health behaviours in children is growing rapidly. While this provides opportunities for promoting health, the content and quality of apps targeting children and adolescents is largely unexplored. This review systematically evaluated the content and quality of apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents, and examined relationships of app quality ratings with number of app features and behaviour change techniques (BCTs) used. Methods: Systematic literature searches were conducted in iTunes and Google Play stores between May-November 2016. Apps were included if they targeted children or adolescents, focused on improving diet, physical activity and/or sedentary behaviour, had a user rating of at least 4+ based on at least 20 ratings, and were available in English. App inclusion, downloading and user-testing for quality assessment and content analysis were conducted independently by two reviewers. Spearman correlations were used to examine relationships between app quality, and number of technical app features and BCTs included. Results: Twenty-five apps were included targeting diet (n = 12), physical activity (n = 18) and sedentary behaviour (n = 7). On a 5-point Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS), overall app quality was moderate (total MARS score: 3.6). Functionality was the highest scoring domain (mean: 4.1, SD: 0.6), followed by aesthetics (mean: 3.8, SD: 0.8), and lower scoring for engagement (mean: 3.6, SD: 0.7) and information quality (mean: 2.8, SD: 0.8). On average, 6 BCTs were identified per app (range: 1-14); the most frequently used BCTs were providing 'instructions' (n = 19), 'general encouragement' (n = 18), 'contingent rewards' (n = 17), and 'feedback on performance' (n = 13). App quality ratings correlated positively with numbers of technical app features (rho = 0.42, p < 0.05) and BCTs included (rho = 0.54, p < 0.01). Conclusions: Popular commercial apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents had moderate quality overall, scored higher in terms of functionality. Most apps incorporated some BCTs and higher quality apps included more app features and BCTs. Future app development should identify factors that promote users' app engagement, be tailored to specific population groups, and be informed by health behaviour theories.
Keywords
HEALTH BEHAVIOR, SMARTPHONE APPLICATIONS, MOBILE APPS, INTERVENTIONS, FUNCTIONALITY, CHILDHOOD, ADULTS, Mobile health (mHealth), Smartphone, Applications, MARS, Behaviour, change techniques, Diet, Physical activity, Sedentary behavior, Children, Adolescents

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MLA
Schoeppe, Stephanie, et al. “Apps to Improve Diet, Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour in Children and Adolescents : A Review of Quality, Features and Behaviour Change Techniques.” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF BEHAVIORAL NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, vol. 14, 2017.
APA
Schoeppe, S., Alley, S., Rebar, A. L., Hayman, M., Bray, N. A., Van Lippevelde, W., … Vandelanotte, C. (2017). Apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents : a review of quality, features and behaviour change techniques. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF BEHAVIORAL NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, 14.
Chicago author-date
Schoeppe, Stephanie, Stephanie Alley, Amanda L Rebar, Melanie Hayman, Nicola A Bray, Wendy Van Lippevelde, Jens-Peter Gnam, Philip Bachert, Artur Direito, and Corneel Vandelanotte. 2017. “Apps to Improve Diet, Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour in Children and Adolescents : A Review of Quality, Features and Behaviour Change Techniques.” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF BEHAVIORAL NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY 14.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Schoeppe, Stephanie, Stephanie Alley, Amanda L Rebar, Melanie Hayman, Nicola A Bray, Wendy Van Lippevelde, Jens-Peter Gnam, Philip Bachert, Artur Direito, and Corneel Vandelanotte. 2017. “Apps to Improve Diet, Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour in Children and Adolescents : A Review of Quality, Features and Behaviour Change Techniques.” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF BEHAVIORAL NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY 14.
Vancouver
1.
Schoeppe S, Alley S, Rebar AL, Hayman M, Bray NA, Van Lippevelde W, et al. Apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents : a review of quality, features and behaviour change techniques. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF BEHAVIORAL NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY. 2017;14.
IEEE
[1]
S. Schoeppe et al., “Apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents : a review of quality, features and behaviour change techniques,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF BEHAVIORAL NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, vol. 14, 2017.
@article{8652490,
  abstract     = {Background: The number of commercial apps to improve health behaviours in children is growing rapidly. While this provides opportunities for promoting health, the content and quality of apps targeting children and adolescents is largely unexplored. This review systematically evaluated the content and quality of apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents, and examined relationships of app quality ratings with number of app features and behaviour change techniques (BCTs) used. 
Methods: Systematic literature searches were conducted in iTunes and Google Play stores between May-November 2016. Apps were included if they targeted children or adolescents, focused on improving diet, physical activity and/or sedentary behaviour, had a user rating of at least 4+ based on at least 20 ratings, and were available in English. App inclusion, downloading and user-testing for quality assessment and content analysis were conducted independently by two reviewers. Spearman correlations were used to examine relationships between app quality, and number of technical app features and BCTs included. 
Results: Twenty-five apps were included targeting diet (n = 12), physical activity (n = 18) and sedentary behaviour (n = 7). On a 5-point Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS), overall app quality was moderate (total MARS score: 3.6). Functionality was the highest scoring domain (mean: 4.1, SD: 0.6), followed by aesthetics (mean: 3.8, SD: 0.8), and lower scoring for engagement (mean: 3.6, SD: 0.7) and information quality (mean: 2.8, SD: 0.8). On average, 6 BCTs were identified per app (range: 1-14); the most frequently used BCTs were providing 'instructions' (n = 19), 'general encouragement' (n = 18), 'contingent rewards' (n = 17), and 'feedback on performance' (n = 13). App quality ratings correlated positively with numbers of technical app features (rho = 0.42, p < 0.05) and BCTs included (rho = 0.54, p < 0.01). 
Conclusions: Popular commercial apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents had moderate quality overall, scored higher in terms of functionality. Most apps incorporated some BCTs and higher quality apps included more app features and BCTs. Future app development should identify factors that promote users' app engagement, be tailored to specific population groups, and be informed by health behaviour theories.},
  articleno    = {83},
  author       = {Schoeppe, Stephanie and Alley, Stephanie and Rebar, Amanda L and Hayman, Melanie and Bray, Nicola A and Van Lippevelde, Wendy and Gnam, Jens-Peter and Bachert, Philip and Direito, Artur and Vandelanotte, Corneel},
  issn         = {1479-5868},
  journal      = {INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF BEHAVIORAL NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY},
  keywords     = {HEALTH BEHAVIOR,SMARTPHONE APPLICATIONS,MOBILE APPS,INTERVENTIONS,FUNCTIONALITY,CHILDHOOD,ADULTS,Mobile health (mHealth),Smartphone,Applications,MARS,Behaviour,change techniques,Diet,Physical activity,Sedentary behavior,Children,Adolescents},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {10},
  title        = {Apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents : a review of quality, features and behaviour change techniques},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12966-017-0538-3},
  volume       = {14},
  year         = {2017},
}

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