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12 March 2015

Teens' View on Health App Design

Keywords: food, fruit, health, interview, mobile, parents, teens, Western Europe, food intake,

A study presented at the Human-Computer Interaction International Conference reveals that mobile health apps can be effective tools to increase fruit consumption and decrease snack consumption among teens (12-15 y/o) who are moderately overweight. The study provides valuable insights on how health apps should be designed to fit the needs, beliefs and wishes of teenagers in order to engage them.

Take aways

  • According to teens, mobile health apps should have the following functionalities in order to be effective in increasing their healthy eating behaviors: 
    • consumption records; 
    • reminders to eat healthy snacks (fruits);
    • goal-setting opportunities;
    • updates from friends. 
  • Health apps can also be effective in increasing teens’ feeling that eating healthy is easy (dietary self-efficacy). 
  • In order to create effective health apps, app developers should implement engaging (social) functionalities that fit the needs of the target audience. 

Study information

  • The question?

    How does a mobile app aiming to encourage the consumption of healthy foods must look like according to teens with moderate overweight? 

  • Who?

    7 teens with moderate overweight between the ages of 12 and 15 years from preparatory secondary vocational educations (VMBO)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    First, interviews were conducted to assess children’s motivations to eat healthy or to snack. Subsequently, they were asked to fill out a food diary for 7 consecutive days to get insights into their eating and drinking habits. Finally, children were interviewed about their eating habits and attitudes and beliefs regarding both healthy and unhealthy eating.

    Based on the insights gained from the interviews and the food diaries, the mobile app “Krachtvoer” (Powerfood) was designed. This app included several engaging functionalities, for example the ability to set consumption records, view tips and updates from friends, goal-setting opportunities, alarms for the eating of healthy snacks, agenda, and results of achievement. To finalize the app, children were asked to try the app and share their experiences regarding the attractiveness of the app and the ease of app usage. 

Facts and findings

Insights from the interviews:

  • The majority of the teens were not aware of their eating and drinking patterns. 
  • The food diaries stimulated them to be more aware of their consumption behaviors. 
  • The teens indicated that they were influenced by their friends to eat unhealthy snacks at school and by their parents to eat fruit at home. 
  • Most of the teens were not intrinsically motivated (motivation that comes from inside rather than from any external rewards, such as money or points) to eat fruit. 

Insights from the usability test:

  • Teens expected the app to be successful in changing their attitude toward eating fruit in comparison to eating unhealthy snacks because:
    • the app confronts them with the negative consequences of their unhealthy behavior (e.g., the avatar in the app becomes fat when eating unhealthy);
    • the app enables positive social influence (e.g., comparisons between users of fruit and snack consumption through open point systems). 
  • Teens also expected the app to be successful in making eating healthy more easy (i.e., dietary self-efficacy), for example by the alarm function that reminds them to eat fruit. 
  • Teens experienced the app as useful, especially because of the reminders to eat fruit, goal-setting opportunities, and consumption monitoring functionalities. 
  • Teens thought it would be best to distribute the app via the school. 
  • Remarkable fact: All teens indicated that they would download the app as soon as it becomes available in the App Store. 
  • Critical note: The researchers only interviewed 7 children, thus the conclusion may not hold for all children. Because of the explorative character, this study only provide a first set of guidelines for future research and/or development.
  • Tip! The original article contains examples of app functionalities and designs (see link on the right side).