Experiences and Perceptions of Adults Accessing Publicly Available Nutrition Behavior-Change Mobile Apps for Weight Management



      Nutrition mobile apps have become accessible and popular weight-management tools available to the general public. To date, much of the research has focused on quantitative outcomes with these tools (eg, weight loss); little is known about user experiences and perceptions of these tools when used outside of a research trial environment.


      Our aim was to understand the experiences and perceptions of adult volunteers who have used publicly available mobile apps to support nutrition behavior change for weight management.


      We conducted one-on-one semi-structured interviews with individuals who reported using nutrition mobile apps for weight management outside of a research setting.


      Twenty-four healthy adults (n=19 females, n=5 males) who had used publicly available nutrition mobile apps for weight management for ≥1 week within the past 3 to 4 months were recruited from the community in southern Ontario and Edmonton, Canada, using different methods (eg, social media, posters, and word of mouth).

      Qualitative data analysis

      Interviews were audiorecorded, transcribed verbatim, and transcripts were verified against recordings. Data were coded inductively and organized into categories using NVivo, version 10 (QSR International).


      Participants used nutrition apps for various amounts of time (mean=approximately 14 months). Varied nutrition apps were used; however, MyFitnessPal was the most common. In the interviews, the following four categories of experiences with nutrition apps became apparent: food data entry (database, data entry methods, portion size, and complex foods); accountability, feedback, and progress (goal setting, accountability, monitoring, and feedback); technical and app-related factors; and personal factors (self-motivation, privacy, knowledge, and obsession). Most participants used apps without professional or dietitian support.


      This work reveals that numerous factors affect use and ongoing adherence to use of nutrition mobile apps. These data are relevant to professionals looking to better assist individuals using these tools, as well as developers looking to develop new and improved apps.


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      J. R. L. Lieffers is a post-doctoral fellow, School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; at the time of the study, she was a graduate student, School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


      J. F. Arocha is an associate professor, School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


      R. M. Hanning is a professor, School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


      K. Grindrod is an assistant professor, School of Pharmacy, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.