Mobile Apps to Support Healthy Family Food Provision: Systematic Assessment of Popular, Commercially Available Apps

One of our PhD students Chelsea Mauch has led work on mobile apps to support healthy family food provision. Read the full paper.

The paper

Mauch CE, Wycherley TP, Laws RA, Johnson BJ, Bell LK, Golley RK. Mobile Apps to Support Healthy Family Food Provision: Systematic Assessment of Popular, Commercially Available Apps. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2018;6(12):e11867. DOI:10.2196/11867

Why we studied this topic

Family food provision, including the planning, purchasing, and preparation of food, is a time consuming and resource intensive process. With modern families facing conflicting demands on their time and resources, child and family diet quality is suffering, contributing to the high prevalence of overweight and obesity. Innovative nutrition interventions providing parents with behavioural support for healthy food provision could help to alleviate this issue. Mobile apps have the potential to deliver such interventions by providing practical behavioural support remotely, interactively, and in context. Most research so far has focused on individual weight loss and diet monitoring apps, while reviews in the commercial space demonstrate that apps relating to food provision in a family context are yet to be explored.

What this paper adds

Our review identified and assessed 51 popular, commercially available mobile apps for supporting the provision of healthy family food. We found that recipe and recipe manager apps, meal planning apps, and family organizers with integrated meal planning and shopping lists incorporated a range of behavioural support features that could be used to support healthy food provision. However features were biased towards planning behaviours which may appeal to some, but not all users, while the engagement quality of the apps was poor.

What was surprising

Few apps included timely notifications to plan, purchase or prepare food, and only two apps allowed grocery ordering. These are missed opportunities to take advantage of the unique ability of mobile phones to provide real-time, practical support. Furthermore, the mean number of behaviour change techniques identified in the apps (3.9±1.9) was lower compared with similar reviews of weight loss and general nutrition apps, leaving scope for increasing the behaviour change potential of future apps.

What it means for policy/practice

Future apps should combine a range of features such as meal planners, shopping lists, simple recipes, reminders and prompts, and food ordering to reduce the burden of the food provision process and maximize behaviour change potential. Researchers and app developers should consider features and content that improve the engagement qualities of such apps to ensure their effectiveness and longevity.

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