The quality of apps is uneven and, unfortunately, untested, adds clinical psychologist Lee Ritterband, director of the behavioral health and technology program at the University of Virginia. “The problem is that there are very few apps that have real, solid empirical evidence behind them, or any scientific backing to what they are or what they say they do,” he says.
Still, Ritterband believes that some early research shows promise. A study published this spring in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that remote health coaching supported by mobile technology, along with financial incentives, made a big difference in fruit and vegetable intake and daily activity levels among adults with elevated saturated fat levels and other bad diet and fitness habits. Participants used a personal digital assistant to immediately record their behaviors, received continually updated feedback and advice on their choices, and earned $175 if they reached and maintained their goals.
A 2009 study found that people who received personalized text messages about weight control and other health issues two to five times a day dropped more pounds over a four-month period than those who received printed materials in the mail. “The best mobile apps and interventions can definitely make a big difference in health and wellness,” says Ritterband.
Read more about how to pick useful health apps on the Washington Post.