Author: VicHealth, a Victorian Government Agency that works with experts, evidence and research in health promotion. Last updated: 22 Apr, 2020

Which healthy living apps could be useful during the coronavirus pandemic?

Mobile apps are tools that can help us make informed decisions about our health – at any time.

This includes during the coronavirus pandemic, when it’s more important than ever to:

So, how can you tell which apps are the most effective in supporting you to live a healthier lifestyle

 

There are consumer reviews, then there’s a rigorous review by experts in research and evaluation

Looking for any app will usually involve relying on the opinions of others, and while there are plenty of consumer reviews online, it could help to see things through the eyes of professional reviewers (i.e. people who work as researchers).

 

What rigorous reviews by experts told us about healthy living apps

In 2018 we worked with a team of experts at Deakin University to review 348 healthy living apps.

None of them got 5-stars. Only two got 4-stars.

The majority were rated 2.5-stars or below, meaning that despite some charging over $15 for the initial download, they would be unlikely to help most people change their health and wellbeing habits.

Yes, 2018 is a long time ago in app-years, but you can still learn from those reviews today.

Simply ask yourself the questions below when you’re looking at apps in 2020.

 

    Think critically: Top five questions to ask yourself when using a healthy living app:

  1. Can you easily set goals? Setting goals is a proven way to help stick to goals.
  2. Can you easily track yourself? Keeping a record of what you do helps. For example, the number of times you go for a walk, on what days and at what intensity.
  3. Does it reward you when you make progress toward your goals? Getting a reward for doing a specific activity will help you to keep doing it.  This could be as simple as praise and encouragement, or your name appearing on a leader board.
  4. Does it send notifications to help you stick to your goals? This will help you build habits and stick to your plans.
  5. Can you share your progress with others to stay motivated? e.g. through social media like Facebook. Having support from other people will help you achieve your goals

 

If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to all or at least most of the above, the app is unlikely to provide the structure, motivation and reward that helps people make progress and change their behaviours.

There are also some red flags that can tell you when an app is more of a trap.

 

    App or trap? Look out for these warning signs:

  • It's expensive, and you don’t know why. Before you find yourself persuaded by clever marketing to pay for an app, take a step back and ask yourself: why does it cost this much?
  • You’re not sure if you can trust the company behind it. Not all apps have the same quality of information. Choose one that’s supported by a reputable organisation that promotes research and evidence, not just opinions.
  • You’re not sure if you can trust the company behind it. Not all apps have the same quality of information. Choose one that’s supported by a reputable organisation that promotes research and evidence, not just opinions.
  • It doesn’t suit your needs. e.g. it’s not suitable for your age, fitness levels or accessibility needs.
  • There are extra setup costs. If you can’t use it with the equipment you already have, it might not be right for you. e.g. if you don’t have a fitness tracker device or exercise equipment, don’t pick an app that needs these (you might put off ‘getting set up’ forever!)
  • There’s a lot of assumed knowledge. If you don’t know how to perform an activity and the app doesn’t show you how to do it, will it work for you?
  • It’s complicated to use. If so, you probably won’t use it.

 

The research details [2018 Healthy Living Apps review]

We looked at 348 healthy living apps available for Apple® and Android™ devices between June and November 2018.

  • VicHealth and Deakin University’s Healthy Living Apps Guide searched Apple iTunes and Google Play stores to identify apps that were focused on promoting healthy eating, encouraging physical activity, preventing tobacco use, preventing harm from alcohol and improving mental health and wellbeing.
  • Identified apps underwent a six-step screening, review and rating process.
  • Each app was rated from 1-star to 5-stars.
  • No apps were rated 5-stars.
  • Only two apps were rated 4-stars.
  • Three quarters of apps received a rating of 2.5-stars or less

Read more about how apps were selected, reviewed and rated. (Please note regardless of the ratings obtained by each app using the research rating scales, VicHealth does not endorse any specific app. More information here).

 

Have a coronavirus question?

For all coronavirus questions visit www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au or call the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) hotline on 1800 020 080.