Diet And Nutrition Apps Study

Diet and nutrition apps can lead to positive behaviour change, study finds

In a recent study of users of diet and nutrition apps, carried out by Brigham Young University (BYU), USA. 96% of respondents reported that using diet or nutrition apps increased their motivation to eat a healthy diet.

With over a third (36.5%) of Americans classified as clinically obese – and with similar trends in much of Europe, it has become ever more urgent to support ways to change our eating habits. As well as reduce our risks of related serious health conditions, including hypertension, stroke, heart disease, elevated cholesterol, and diabetes.

The 2017 study was carried out by BYU health science researchers to try to identify which behaviour change mechanisms are associated with the use of diet, and nutrition related health apps. Whether the apps had a positive impact on changing actual health behaviour. The scientists followed 217 men and women who had reported using them regularly over the previous six months.

Key findings

Study participants reported that the diet and nutrition related apps they chose to use. This is what they focused on improving motivation, desire, self-efficacy, attitudes, knowledge, and goal-setting. These were particularly useful in helping to change their behaviour:

  • Firstly, motivation: Over 90% found that using diet/nutrition apps increased their motivation to eat a healthy diet (59.9% strongly agreed and 36.8% agreed)
  • Secondly, self-efficacy: Over 80% felt that the apps had increased their ability to eat a healthy diet (43.8% strongly agreed and 42.4% agreed)
  • Thirdly, confidence: More than half (59%) strongly agreed that using the apps had increased their confidence that they could eat a healthy diet
  • Fourthly, goal-setting: Over half (58.5%) strongly agreed that the apps had increased their ability to achieve healthy diet goals
  • Following on, frequency & consistency: Over half (57.6%) reported increases in their frequency of eating healthy foods, and 54.4% increases in their consistency of eating healthy foods
  • Lastly, engagement and likability of the apps were also noted as key factors in the users’ success in achieving and maintaining their goals: 54.4% strongly agreed that they liked the apps and 44.8% enjoyed using the apps.  Just over half of the participants (54%) strongly agreed that they would recommend the apps to others.

The report’s authors concluded that diet- and nutrition-related apps “show promise as tools to successfully facilitate positive health behavior change… Furthermore, apps that focus on improving motivation, desire, self-efficacy, attitudes, knowledge, and goal setting may be particularly useful.”

They recommended app developers take account to incorporate elements of leading health behaviour change theories, such as the health belief model (HBM), theory of planned behaviour (TPB), and social cognitive theory (SCT) into the design and implantation of diet- and nutrition-related apps and to “emphasize the provision of knowledge to shape attitudes and beliefs, followed by attempts to influence actual skill development in app users.” They also found that elements of gamification may also be useful to maintain user motivation and the desire to be persistent in making weight loss efforts.


See blog posts ‘Mental health apps increase users’ motivation, confidence and control’

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Download the full report ‘Controlling Your “App”etite: How Diet and Nutrition-Related Mobile Apps Lead to Behavior Change’…

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See blog posts ‘Physical activity apps can help change behaviour, study finds’ [add hyperlinks]

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Download the full findings on mental and emotional health apps…

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Download the full findings on physical activity apps…

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