Mobile Application Use and Healthy Eating Behaviors in Young Adult Females
In today's society, obesity and chronic diseases are on the rise. Maintaining a healthy diet, a healthy weight and an active lifestyle are important steps in helping reduce the risk of chronic diseases. People are becoming increasingly interested in technologies that can help improve their health, many of which revolve around the use of a mobile phone. The popularity of mobile phone applications (apps) has been on the rise recently. The question of whether or not these phone apps increase healthy behaviors or positively impact body weight--particularly when compared to basic phone-based record keeping--and specifically in a college-age population has not been explored extensively, making this an important area to address and research. Participants (n=43) were randomly enrolled into a mobile app or phone-based memo group during a 6 week study. Participants in the app group were trained on proper usage of the free app, MyNetDiary, and the memo group received directions on how to journal their food and exercise activity on their phone. Participants were asked to complete pre and post questionnaires during the duration of the study. Physical Activity (PA), Physical Activity Change Strategies (PACS) and Health Behavior Change Strategies (HECS) were assessed via the Health Behavior Survey. The physical activity staging portion of the questionnaire was used to assess how many days a week participants accumulated 30 minutes or more of purposeful physical activity per day. Dietary intake questions were from the validated National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2009-2010 Dietary Screener. Anthropometric data (including height, weight, waist circumference and BMI) was collected at baseline and completion of the 6 week study. Adherence to tracking dietary intake and physical activity was collected at three weeks and the conclusion of the study Comparisons between the App group and Memo group were examined using an independent samples t-test for continuous variables and a χ2 test of independence for categorical variables. A paired t-test was also used for assessing changes within the groups. Additionally, ANCOVA, with the baseline value of the dependent variable serving as the covariate, was used to assess change across 6 weeks for the PACS and HECS. A two-sided α of 0.05 was applied. There were no significant differences found between or within groups in any area of dietary intake measured. No significant differences were found in frequency of obtaining at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Additionally, there was not a significant change in total scores for HECS or PACS. Strengths of this study include the use of a mobile phone in both groups, thus eliminating the confounding caused by variations in recording methodology. Additionally, adherence was assessed, which is often omitted in other studies. Finally, there is limited research in normal weight individuals using a mobile app and its effect on anthropometrics and health behaviors. This study attempts to begin to fill that gap. Limitations to the study could include the inability to generalize these findings beyond the relatively homogenous study population, which was predominately white female, normal weight, college students. The sample size and length of time for the study are also limitations. A larger population of subjects and a longer time-frame (e.g. 12+ weeks) may be needed in order to see a change in eating habits and physical activity behaviors in healthy young adults. Finally, giving focused dietary and physical activity targets prior to commencing recording might lead to more health-related changes, thus allowing for clearer discrimination between groups.
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