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Effectiveness of a smartphone app in increasing physical activity amongst male adults: a randomised controlled trial

Harries, Tim, Eslambolchilar, Parisa ORCID:, Rettie, Ruth, Stride, Chris, Walton, Simon and Van Woerden, Hugo C. 2016. Effectiveness of a smartphone app in increasing physical activity amongst male adults: a randomised controlled trial. BMC Public Health 16 , -. 10.1186/s12889-016-3593-9

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Background Smartphones are ideal for promoting physical activity in those with little intrinsic motivation for exercise. This study tested three hypotheses: H1 – receipt of social feedback generates higher step-counts than receipt of no feedback; H2 – receipt of social feedback generates higher step-counts than only receiving feedback on one’s own walking; H3 – receipt of feedback on one’s own walking generates higher step-counts than no feedback (H3). Methods A parallel group randomised controlled trial measured the impact of feedback on steps-counts. Healthy male participants (n = 165) aged 18–40 were given phones pre-installed with an app that recorded steps continuously, without the need for user activation. Participants carried these with them as their main phones for a two-week run-in and six-week trial. Randomisation was to three groups: no feedback (control); personal feedback on step-counts; group feedback comparing step-counts against those taken by others in their group. The primary outcome measure, steps per day, was assessed using longitudinal multilevel regression analysis. Control variables included attitude to physical activity and perceived barriers to physical activity. Results Fifty-five participants were allocated to each group; 152 completed the study and were included in the analysis: n = 49, no feedback; n = 53, individual feedback; n = 50, individual and social feedback. The study provided support for H1 and H3 but not H2. Receipt of either form of feedback explained 7.7 % of between-subject variability in step-count (F = 6.626, p < 0.0005). Compared to the control, the expected step-count for the individual feedback group was 60 % higher (effect on log step-count = 0.474, 95 % CI = 0.166–0.782) and that for the social feedback group, 69 % higher (effect on log step-count = 0.526, 95 % CI = 0.212–0.840). The difference between the two feedback groups (individual vs social feedback) was not statistically significant. Conclusions Always-on smartphone apps that provide step-counts can increase physical activity in young to early-middle-aged men but the provision of social feedback has no apparent incremental impact. This approach may be particularly suitable for inactive people with low levels of physical activity; it should now be tested with this population.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Computer Science & Informatics
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Additional Information: his article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Publisher: BMC
ISSN: 1471-2458
Funders: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 24 October 2016
Date of Acceptance: 25 August 2016
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2023 19:46

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