A study from VicHealth has found that most health and well-being apps do little to help us get fitter or alter our lifestyles. The research looked at almost 350 apps with only a small number being rated at four out of five and three quarters given a failing grade. But is there more to this than meets the eye?
The research, conducted by boffins from Melbourne's Deakin University and VicHealth searched the Google Play and Apple iTunes stores for apps with specific keywords in the title or description related to health, fitness or wellbeing. They screened the apps based on ratings and how recently they'd been updated before assessing them for functionality and their potential to affect behaviour change.
For an app to be included in the assessment it needed to satisfy two of the following criteria:
- setting goals for the actions you like to achieve
- tailoring the app to suit you
- sharing your progress with others (e.g. through connections with social media like Facebook)
- receiving rewards or acknowledgements when you complete activities or make progress toward your goal
Functionality was assessed using a scale developed by the Queensland University of Technology and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre that looked at each app’s engagement, functionality, utility, aesthetics and information.
All of this was used to produce the Healthy Living Apps Guide.
The guide is useful but lacks a few apps I would have expected. For example, neither Apple nor Samsung are in the list with the apps those two makers bundle with their smartphones. And while the study focusses on apps, that's a limited view in my opinion as there's research that suggests wearables are a valuable aid.
And some of the ratings were interesting. For example, the Fitbit app was rated more highly than MyFitnessPal yet it had fewer "ticks" against the listed assessment criteria and is basically useless without the extra expense of a tracker that adds at least $100 to the cost of using the app fully.
While the Healthy Living Apps Guide is a good start, I think it needs some work.