Bad apps and where to find them

Victorian health promotion agency VicHealth has developed a guide to health and wellbeing apps using an Australian-first rating system that shows many are ineffective and poorly designed.

Launching the Healthy Living Apps Guide today, Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy said apps can be a great way to help in achieving a healthier lifestyle, but some are not as useful as they claim.

Of the more than 200 apps evaluated, only five apps achieved a rating of three or more out of five. Apps reviewed include popular ones such as Nike+ Running, Fitbit, My Diet Diary Calorie Counter and the Quit Now: My QuitBuddy smoking cessation app.

The apps were reviewed and rated using the mobile app rating scale (MARS) developed by Queensland University of Technology and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, along with the CALO-RE taxonomy developed by University College, London.

The apps were all described as those that can help the user achieve a healthier lifestyle by eating more healthily, being more physically active, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol and improving mental wellbeing.

Each app was rated according to its functionality but also its ability to affect user behaviour. VicHealth says that while many apps rated well in terms of functionality, they did not achieve a high rating on their potential to help users change behaviour.

More clinically focused apps that target specific populations such as people with diabetes or psychological disorders were excluded, as were any apps that has a low rating on Google Play or the App Store.

Those that rated highly were a personalised fitness program called Freeletics, My Quit Buddy, a meditation app called Get Some Headspace, a hydration tracker called Water Balance and a sleep, weight and activity tracker called UP – Tracker Required, which can share data with Apple Health.

The worst app of the 200 reviewed was Smoke Free – Finally Non Smoking, which achieved just half a star.

VicHealth also released a survey undertaken on its behalf by an independent agency that 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 per cent vs 36 per cent).

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said apps can be effective in helping people adopt healthier lifestyles, but those 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,” Ms Rechter said. “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.”

The guide is available on the VicHealth website.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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