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Health Educ Behav. 2013 Apr;40(2):133-9. doi: 10.1177/1090198112452126. Epub 2012 Sep 17.

Apps of steel: are exercise apps providing consumers with realistic expectations?: a content analysis of exercise apps for presence of behavior change theory.

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Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602, USA.



To quantify the presence of health behavior theory constructs in iPhone apps targeting physical activity.


This study used a content analysis of 127 apps from Apple's (App Store) Health & Fitness category. Coders downloaded the apps and then used an established theory-based instrument to rate each app's inclusion of theoretical constructs from prominent behavior change theories. Five common items were used to measure 20 theoretical constructs, for a total of 100 items. A theory score was calculated for each app. Multiple regression analysis was used to identify factors associated with higher theory scores.


Apps were generally observed to be lacking in theoretical content. Theory scores ranged from 1 to 28 on a 100-point scale. The health belief model was the most prevalent theory, accounting for 32% of all constructs. Regression analyses indicated that higher priced apps and apps that addressed a broader activity spectrum were associated with higher total theory scores.


It is not unexpected that apps contained only minimal theoretical content, given that app developers come from a variety of backgrounds and many are not trained in the application of health behavior theory. The relationship between price and theory score corroborates research indicating that higher quality apps are more expensive. There is an opportunity for health and behavior change experts to partner with app developers to incorporate behavior change theories into the development of apps. These future collaborations between health behavior change experts and app developers could foster apps superior in both theory and programming possibly resulting in better health outcomes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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