JMIR mHealth and uHealth
URL with Digital Object Identifier
Background: Physical activity during pregnancy is associated with several health benefits for the mother and child. However, very few women participate in regular physical activity during pregnancy. eHealth platforms (internet and mobile apps) have become an important information source for pregnant women. Although the use of pregnancy-related apps has significantly increased among pregnant women, very little is known about their theoretical underpinnings, including their utilization of behavior change techniques (BCTs). This is despite research suggesting that inclusion of BCTs in eHealth interventions are important for promoting healthy behaviors, including physical activity. Objective: The aim of this study was to conduct a systematic search and content analysis of app quality, features, and the presence of BCTs in apps designed to promote physical activity among pregnant women. Methods: A systematic search in the Australian App Store and Google Play store using search terms relating to exercise and pregnancy was performed. App quality and features were assessed using the 19-item Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS), and a taxonomy of BCTs was used to determine the presence of BCTs (26 items). BCTs previously demonstrating efficacy in behavior changes during pregnancy were also identified from a literature review. Spearman correlations were used to investigate the relationships between app quality, app features, and number of BCTs identified. Results: Nineteen exercise apps were deemed eligible for this review and they were accessed via Google Play (n=13) or App Store (n=6). The MARS overall quality scores indicated moderate app quality (mean 3.5 [SD 0.52]). Functionality was the highest scoring MARS domain (mean 4.2 [SD 0.5]), followed by aesthetics (mean 3.7 [SD 0.6]) and information quality (mean 3.16 [SD 0.42]). Subjective app quality (mean 2.54 [SD 0.64]) and likelihood for behavioral impact (mean 2.5 [SD 0.6]) were the lowest scoring MARS domains. All 19 apps were found to incorporate at least two BCTs (mean 4.74, SD 2.51; range 2-10). However, only 11 apps included BCTs that previously demonstrated efficacy for behavior change during pregnancy, the most common being provide opportunities for social comparison (n=8) and prompt self-monitoring of behavior (n=7). There was a significant positive correlation between the number of BCTs with engagement and aesthetics scores, but the number of BCTs was not significantly correlated with functionality, information quality, total MARS quality, or subjective quality. Conclusions: Our findings showed that apps designed to promote physical activity among pregnant women were functional and aesthetically pleasing, with overall moderate quality. However, the incorporation of BCTs was low, with limited prevalence of BCTs previously demonstrating efficacy in behavior change during pregnancy. Future app development should identify and adopt factors that enhance and encourage user engagement, including the use of BCTs, especially those that have demonstrated efficacy for promoting physical activity behavior change among pregnant women.