Do fitness apps do what they promise to obtain?

Behavior change techniques implemented in electronic activity monitors: A systematic content analysis.

Insufficient physical activity is a major worldwide public health problem. Even small increases in activity at a population level could have far-reaching positive impacts on chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and several cancers. Despite evidence supporting improved health outcomes from regular physical activity, population levels of physical activity remain low, and inactivity is prevalent.

Behavioral physical activity interventions are typically successful in increasing activity levels, but these interventions are costly and require professional expertise in delivering behavior change techniques (BCTs).

Electronic activity monitors show promise as a delivery medium, as they can perform most aspects of pedometer-based interventions while providing options for individually tailored intervention content. The market is large and growing quickly.

However, little is known about how these monitors differ from one another, what options they provide in their apps, and how these options may impact their effectiveness. The low cost, wide reach, and apparent effectiveness of electronic activity monitors make them appealing for recommendation by practitioners, but the growing number of options precludes practitioners’ ability to provide informed recommendations to patients.

The purpose of this study was to systematically investigate currently available commercial electronic activity monitors to

1. characterize their behavior change techniques

2. determine the extent to which they include techniques associated with successful outcomes

3. compare implementation of several critical techniques to theory-based and evidence-based recommendations.

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