Health apps: A survey of use





The market penetration of smartphones continues to grow in Germany. According to industry association BITKOM in 2015 already 44 million Germans use Internet and app-enabled mobile devices; a population share of aprox 52 percent. The use of apps is no longer a question of age: 65 percent of people aged 50 to 64 already own a smartphone. Hence it is not surprising that mobile phone apps, which focus on health, fitness, or medical care have become very popular, i.e. runtastic oder freeletics. According to a brand new survey of Deloitte only 2 percent of German sportsman owning a smartphone do not use a fitness app at all. Unfortunately, this study did not consider health- and nutrition apps (n=171; DSSV Industrie Newsletter 05/15)

Information is limited with regard to important metrics, including the percentage of the population that uses health apps, reasons for adoption/nonadoption, and reasons for discontinuation of use. And that’s exactly the focus of a new comprehensive US-study of the New York University School of Medicine: "Paul Cancer; Dustin T Duncan: Health app Use Among US Mobile Phone Owners: A National Survey. The results of this study are even more interesting because the United States are about 3 to 5 years ahead of Germany regarding digitization. So let’s take a look into the crystal ball…

Health apps in the US

The use of smartphones in the US is already much further: Nearly 64 percent of residents and already 82 percent of people aged between 18 and 49 years use smartphones. Additionally, 15% of the US population owns a mobile phone-connected wearable device, such as a Fitbit (Training Tracker / bracelet) or smartwatch.

Study Design

A cross-sectional survey of 1604 mobile phone users in the United States was conducted in June 2015: aged 18 years or older, spoke English and owned a mobile phone. In equal parts male and female. 60 percent had an annual income of less than 50,000 dollars. Even the health status of the participants was recorded: 34 percent had a "normal" BMI (18.5-24.9), but 62 percent were overweight (27%; BMI: 25-29.9) or even obese (35%; BMI ≥ 30). Of those surveyed, 51 percent reported, to be in very good or even excellent health. The most common diagnoses made (according to own statements) were: hypertension (22.7%), high cholesterol (19.9%), depression (16.7%), obesity (12.3%) and diabetes (10.2%).

Use of health and fitness apps

With regard to health app use, 58.2 % had downloaded an app to track their health in the past, with 41.6% having even downloaded more than five health-related apps. All programs that are listed in the in the app stores under "health and fitness" and "Medical" were considered in this study. The most frequent reasons people reported for downloading health apps were to track how much physical activity they were getting 52.8%, to track what they ate 47.6%, to lose weight 46.8%, and to learn exercises 34.0%).

The majority of respondents (65.5%) open their Health Apps least daily and 44.4 percent use their apps for 1 to 10 minutes. Confidence in the security (78.2%) and quality (81.3%) of the collected data is quite high.

Reasons for no or not continues use

In general, data protection in the United States plays a much smaller role than in Germany. Nevertheless, 28.1 percent of participants did not install health apps for privacy-related concerns. Other reasons were: generally not interested (27%), high costs (23%) or the conviction they did not need a health app (10.9%).

A large portion of the sample reported that they downloaded health apps they no longer use. The main reasons were: It takes too much time to collect the data (44.5%), loss of interest (40.5%), confusing user guidance (32.8%), no like that the apps share data with friends (29%).




Do apps increase health? 

A large majority (60.3%) of participants reports only a slight improvement in health But almost a third claimed to have great benefits from the apps, only 10.5 percent have found no improvement or even a deterioration of their health.

What Apps should do

The majority of comments address the relation of food intake, physical activity, and weight management. The apps should provide more specific and personalized recommendations, regarding exercises/activities and what to eat. In this context, motivation plays a role: apps should certainly point out that movement is required.

In addition, apps are expected to communicate directly with doctors about making appointments or to discuss the data the apps had recorded.

According the study, this willingness to collect and share personal data could be an important issue of future health policies. Nevertheless, there are also in the US major concerns that insurance companies use the data. 

Chance for fitness industry

No doubt: The use of health apps will increase in Europe. The main challenge is to develop apps that are accepted by large parts of society. This US study showed that higher income and education of people leads to an increased use of health apps. Hence more works needs to be done to increase usability and address the privacy and regulatory barriers to reach a broader population. And also the fitness industry can benefit from the spreading of health apps. Last but not lease, because the data collected allow a more personalized and specific training and therapy of customers. It’s a big chance for further growth by better user experiences.


The study: Health App Use Among US Mobile Phone Owners: A National Survey