Who Uses Mobile Phone Health Apps and Does Use Matter? A Secondary Data Analytics Approach

Jennifer Caroll, Anne Moorhead, Raymond Bond, William LeBlanc, Robert Petrella, Kevin Fiscella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

327 Citations (Scopus)
177 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Mobile phone use and the adoption of healthy lifestyle software apps (“health apps”) are rapidly proliferating. There is limited information on the users of health apps in terms of their social demographic and health characteristics, intentions to change, and actual health behaviors.
Objective: The objectives of our study were to (1) to describe the sociodemographic characteristics associated with health app use in a recent US nationally representative sample; (2) to assess the attitudinal and behavioral predictors of the use of health apps for health promotion; and (3) to examine the association between the use of health-related apps and meeting the recommended guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity.
Methods: Data on users of mobile devices and health apps were analyzed from the National Cancer Institute’s 2015 Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS), which was designed to provide nationally representative estimates for health information in the United States and is publicly available on the Internet. We used multivariable logistic regression models to assess sociodemographic predictors of mobile device and health app use and examine the associations between app use, intentions to change behavior, and actual behavioral change for fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and weight loss.
Results: From the 3677 total HINTS respondents, older individuals (45-64 years, odds ratio, OR 0.56, 95% CI 0.47-68; 65+ years, OR 0.19, 95% CI 0.14-0.24), males (OR 0.80, 95% CI 0.66-0.94), and having degree (OR 2.83, 95% CI 2.18-3.70) or less than high school education (OR 0.43, 95% CI 0.24-0.72) were all significantly associated with a reduced likelihood of having adopted health apps. Similarly, both age and education were significant variables for predicting whether a person had adopted a mobile device, especially if that person was a college graduate (OR 3.30). Individuals with apps were significantly more likely to report intentions to improve fruit (63.8% with apps vs 58.5% without apps, P=.01) and vegetable (74.9% vs 64.3%, P<.01) consumption, physical activity (83.0% vs 65.4%, P<.01), and weight loss (83.4% vs 71.8%, P<.01). Individuals with apps were also more likely to meet recommendations for physical activity compared with those without a device or health apps (56.2% with apps vs 47.8% without apps, P<.01).
Conclusions: The main users of health apps were individuals who were younger, had more education, reported excellent health, and had a higher income. Although differences persist for gender, age, and educational attainment, many individual sociodemographic factors are becoming less potent in influencing engagement with mobile devices and health app use. App use was associated with intentions to change diet and physical activity and meeting physical activity recommendations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e125
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 19 Apr 2017


  • smartphone
  • cell phone
  • Internet
  • mobile applications
  • health promotion
  • health behavior


Dive into the research topics of 'Who Uses Mobile Phone Health Apps and Does Use Matter? A Secondary Data Analytics Approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this