14 Sep, 2015 Last updated: 14 Sep, 2015

A new survey from VicHealth shows two in five Australians (40%) trust health and wellbeing apps for information about being healthy despite a new guide showing many may be ineffective.

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VicHealth is today launching a Healthy Living Apps Guide which reviews more than 200 smartphone apps for their effectiveness in helping people lead healthier lifestyles.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said digital technologies such as mobile phone apps were a great tool for promoting health and preventing illness, but that until now there had been no independent, evidence-based review of the quality and effectiveness of these apps.

“The majority (81%) of Australians own a smartphone and have access to thousands of apps that commit to helping them eat better, move more, quit smoking, drink less alcohol and manage stress levels. We know that a quarter of Victorians have recently downloaded a health and wellbeing app, but with so many to choose from, people often struggle to find one that’s effective in helping them change their behaviour in a way that will help them live a healthier life.

VicHealth’s Healthy Living Apps Guide is a user-friendly guide that provides an independent rating of apps.

Some of the apps featured include Nike+ Running, Fitbit, My Diet Diary Calorie Counter, Water your Body, Quit Now: My QuitBuddy, Tap to Smoke, Alcohol Cutdown Coach and Map my Fitness. 

Ms Rechter said: “Apps can be effective in helping people adopt healthier lifestyles, but the two in five Australians who trust them for information about being healthy should use them with caution. We rated the apps on how user-friendly they are and how effective they’re likely to be in helping someone adopt a healthier lifestyle. We rated them out of five and the best rating achieved was three out of five. 

“Besides giving people the information they need to make better decisions for their own health, we’re encouraging app developers to improve their products.  We’ve also produced a set of new guidelines to assist app developers design more effective products, which is a win-win for everyone,” Ms Rechter said.

Minister for Health, the Hon. Jill Hennessy MP, said Victorians were using smart phones and mobile apps at ever increasing rates, but that it’s important people download wisely.

"These days, there seems to be an app for everything. Some apps can be a great way to achieve a healthier lifestyle, but some may not be as useful as they claim." 

"This independent guide is a great way for Victorians to find an app that will be effective and useful for them to achieve their goals.”

CHOICE spokesperson, Tom Godfrey said: “Downloading an app is no fast track to good health and there are common tricks and traps you should avoid. From "free" apps that sting you with in-app purchases to junk food companies health washing their fatty fast food experiences, it's important to question the motivations of developers.

“We welcome VicHealth's latest research which will go a long way to helping consumers make informed choices when navigating the health app market.”


VicHealth’s Healthy Living Apps Guide for consumers, as well as the guidelines for app developers, is available at www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/apps. The pages can be searched in a number of ways – by category, Apple or Android device, age group, price, and whether the app needs an add-on to work e.g., a fitness device. They can also be sorted by overall rating, name, highest price or lowest price. 

Note to Editors

New survey findings

• The VicHealth survey was undertaken by an independent agency. The survey captured responses from 4062 Australians aged 18 and over.

• The survey found that two in five Australians think health and wellbeing apps are trustworthy sources of information about being healthy. Women are more likely than men to trust these apps (44% vs 36%).

• Significantly higher proportions of younger Australians (47% of 18-24 year olds and 50% of 25-34 year olds) think health and wellbeing apps are trustworthy sources of information compared to older Australians (32% of 55-64 year olds and 29% of 65-74 year olds).

• Half of Australian parents of children under 12 (46%) also think they are trustworthy sources of information about being healthy.

VicHealth research

• A quarter of Victorians have downloaded a health and wellbeing app.

• Approximately one in six Victorians has downloaded a physical activity/exercise app (17%) and one in ten Victorians have downloaded an app about healthy eating (11%). 

• Victorians aged 25-34 are most likely to download health and wellbeing apps with one third (33%) downloading apps for physical activity / exercise and a quarter (25%) downloading apps for healthy eating.

Healthy Living Apps Guide Rating Process

• VicHealth’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 wellbeing.

• Identified apps underwent a six-step screening, review and rating process, which will be repeated on a yearly basis. 

• The rating process was developed by VicHealth. The rating questionnaires for this project have been scientifically reviewed by experts in the field. App ratings were conducted by Deakin University and an independent consulting firm. 


1. Make sure the app is enjoyable to use.
You will use an app more often if you find it enjoyable and engaging. It will also make it feel like less of a chore!

2. Find an app that suits your needs.
There are many apps available so choose one that suits your needs. For instance, choose an app that’s suitable for your age, fitness levels or accessibility needs.

3. Choose an app supported by someone you trust.
Not all apps have the same quality of information. Choose an app that is made or supported by an organisation that you trust.

4. Use an app that supports what you already have.
Find an app you can incorporate with equipment you already have access to. 

5. Make sure the app allows you to create and modify your own goals.
Setting yourself a goal will help you to build healthy habits and stick to them, such as doing more physical activity next week.

6. Choose an app that lets you track your behaviour.
Keeping a record of your behaviour will help you change it! For example, you can choose an app that displays the times you go on walks, on what days and at what intensity.

7. Choose an app that shows you how to do an activity.
If you don’t know how to perform an activity, watching it being done will help you to get started.

8. Use an app that allows you to share your progress with your friends, whether this is through social media or other users of the app community.
Having support from other people will help you achieve your goals.

9. Find an app that has notifications.

Let the app remind you of when you had planned to go for a walk or eat a piece of fruit instead of that snack! This will help you build habits and stick to your plans.

10. Choose an app that rewards you when you succeed
Getting a reward for doing a specific activity will help reinforce it.  This could be as simple as praise and encouragement or your name appearing on a leader board.

Media Contact: Helen Walsh, Senior Media Advisor, 03 9667 1319 or 0435 761 732 or email [email protected].