Background: Widespread diffusion of mobile phone and Web 2.0 technologies make them potentially useful tools for promoting health and tackling public health issues, such as the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity. Research in this domain is growing rapidly but, to date, no review has comprehensively and systematically documented how mobile and Web 2.0 technologies are being deployed and evaluated in relation to weight management.
Objective: To provide an up-to-date, comprehensive map of the literature discussing the use of mobile phone and Web 2.0 apps for influencing behaviors related to weight management (ie, diet, physical activity [PA], weight control, etc).
Methods: A systematic scoping review of the literature was conducted based on a published protocol (registered at PROSPERO: CRD42014010323). Using a comprehensive search strategy, we searched 16 multidisciplinary electronic databases for original research documents published in English between 2004 and 2014. We used duplicate study selection and data extraction. Using an inductively developed charting tool, selected articles were thematically categorized.
Results: We identified 457 articles, mostly published between 2013 and 2014 in 157 different journals and 89 conference proceedings. Articles were categorized around two overarching themes, which described the use of technologies for either (1) promoting behavior change (309/457, 67.6%) or (2) measuring behavior (103/457, 22.5%). The remaining articles were overviews of apps and social media content (33/457, 7.2%) or covered a combination of these three themes (12/457, 2.6%). Within the two main overarching themes, we categorized articles as representing three phases of research development: (1) design and development, (2) feasibility studies, and (3) evaluations. Overall, articles mostly reported on evaluations of technologies for behavior change (211/457, 46.2%).
Conclusions: There is an extensive body of research on mobile phone and Web 2.0 technologies for weight management. Research has reported on (1) the development, feasibility, and efficacy of persuasive mobile technologies used in interventions for behavior change (PA and diet) and (2) the design, feasibility, and accuracy of mobile phone apps for behavioral assessment. Further research has focused exclusively on analyses of the content and quality of available apps. Limited evidence exists on the use of social media for behavior change, but a segment of studies deal with content analyses of social media. Future research should analyze mobile phone and Web 2.0 technologies together by combining the evaluation of content and design aspects with usability, feasibility, and efficacy/effectiveness for behavior change, or accuracy/validity for behavior assessment, in order to understand which technological components and features are likely to result in effective interventions.