Researchers in Ireland evaluated the use of an Android smartphone app to increase patients’ activity levels, as measured by step count.

When it comes to tackling the epidemic of obesity and its associated morbidities, promoting active lifestyles is key. For many patients, setting specific achievable goals is a helpful tool in accomplishing that.

Here, researchers from the National University of Ireland and University of Aberdeen selected an app to trial among patients followed at three primary care centers to evaluate whether it could be effective in increasing activity levels. Over the roughly two month period, they found a 22% increase in basal activity levels.

A total of 90 patients using Android devices were randomized to either an intervention group which used the smartphone app or a control group. To pick the intervention app, researchers scored available pedometer apps based on three general criteria including

  • Automatic feedback and tracking
  • Visually appealing display
  • Goal setting functionality and feedback

Based on these criteria, they selected the Accupedo-Pro Pedometer app. All patients received up front education and counseling. After a one week run in period, patients in the intervention group were taught how to use the app. Beyond that, all patients received the same education and follow up including sharing data at the same intervals.

They found a mean difference in improvement in step count between the intervention and control groups of 2017 steps, or a 22% increase in mean step count. Other parameters followed including BMI and blood pressure did not significantly change however.

Interestingly, they found that both groups had an initial increase in step count but the control group quickly returned essentially to baseline while the intervention group continued to improve.

There are several useful takeaways from this study. First, it suggests that use of a low-cost smartphone app can help reinforce and sustain behavioral interventions. Second, it highlights the importance of “app training,” or helping patients understand how to use an app to achieve a specific goal.

As the researchers noted, 90% of Americans who own mobile phones carry their devices 24 hours a day. Here, they demonstrate how some of that time can be used to make meaningful improvements in health.