Smartphones can be successfully used to track health

Posted Mar 22, 2017 by Tim Sandle
A review of smartphones and health apps indicates how parents can improve health outcomes for children. This is through a mix of appropriate apps and text messages.
Instagram app on smartphone.
Instagram app on smartphone.
The research into digital health and mobile options has been led by Professor Christopher Cushing, who is a psychologist at the University of Kansas. Summarizing the study, the academic states: "The take-home message is that a smartphone can help a child be healthier across a number of health care behaviors, like making sure they get vaccines or eat a healthy diet.”
To this he adds: "We have some idea that a smartphone and messaging can be a good way to go, but we also have a long way to go to optimize this kind of intervention."
The research looked at 37 separate studies into mobile health interventions, with a focus on statistical data relating to changes in health behavior or disease rates. Each of the subjects in the studies was aged under 18 years. The analysis suggests that parents and medical staff should readily adopt mobile-phone-based technology for children. One driver for this is the demographic: most young people are ‘plugged into’ their mobile devices regularly and they use apps at a high level.
In terms of apps the review found there was no significant difference between the types of apps used; the difference was with young people accessing health apps or not accessing health apps (with benefits directed to those who use health apps). In addition, simple health reminders, such as text messages, sometimes prove as effective as more sophisticated apps. Examples include sending text messages for vaccination reminders. With apps, these can help to track aspects of health like diet and physical exercise. An example is collecting data on the amount of time an individual has spent in sedentary activity and then delivering a message to their mobile device promoting them to engage in some sort of physical activity.
To help support the use of different apps to communicate digital health, it is suggested from the research that these work best when parents become involved. Parental support is seen as key in helping children meet health goals. The survey also found that parents can make a useful contribution to application design.
The research methodology and outcomes have been published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The research paper is headed “Mobile Health Interventions for Improving Health Outcomes in Youth: A Meta-analysis.”