Health: There Are Lots of Apps for That

Mobile health technologies may help users manage chronic conditions, lose weight and exercise

If you use some sort of tech to track your health, you’re not alone.

A new review of research on mobile health technologies (mHealth) found that many Americans were using smartphone apps and wearable sensors to track their health.

The American Heart Association (AHA) took a look at the effectiveness of these technologies for weight management, increasing physical activity, smoking cessation and controlling chronic health conditions.

"The fact that mobile health technologies haven't been fully studied doesn't mean that they are not effective," said lead study author Lora E. Burke, PhD, a professor of nursing and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, in a press release. "Self-monitoring is one of the core strategies for changing cardiovascular health behaviors. If a mobile health technology, such as a smartphone app for self-monitoring diet, weight or physical activity, is helping you improve your behavior, then stick with it."

Dr. Burke and team looked at data on how mHealth technologies further the goals of the AHA's "Life’s Simple 7."

This list of ways to improve heart health includes healthy eating, being more active, managing weight, avoiding tobacco smoke and controlling blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

These researchers found that 1 in 5 Americans uses some sort of mHealth to track health data. The most popular apps were exercise-related, such as step counters or heart rate monitors.

Dr. Burke and team found that those who used mHealth as part of a comprehensive weight loss program were more successful with weight loss than those who didn't use mHealth.

No data on whether mHealth users kept the weight off was found, however.

According to these researchers, while many people use mHealth to encourage exercise, the data also didn't indicate whether wearable devices actually helped users move more.

Dr. Burke and team found that mobile phone apps with text messaging nearly doubled a user's chances of quitting smoking.

Unfortunately, 90 percent of these users failed to quit in the long term.

Dr. Burke and team also found little to no research on the effectiveness of mHealth for cholesterol, diabetes or blood pressure management.

Despite this lack of evidence, Dr. Burke said users shouldn’t give up on mHealth just yet.

"Don't dismiss the possibility that these devices and apps can help you be heart healthy," Dr. Burke said.

To choose the best technology for you, Dr. Burke recommends talking to your doctor, fitness instructor or dietitian.

The AHA statement was published in the August issue of the journal Circulation.