Mobile apps to support healthy family food provision: Systematic assessment of popular, commercially available apps

Chelsea E. Mauch, Thomas P. Wycherley, Rachel A. Laws, Brittany J. Johnson, Lucinda K. Bell, Rebecca K. Golley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Modern families are facing conflicting demands on their time and resources, which may be at the detriment of child and family diet quality. Innovative nutrition interventions providing parents with behavioral support for the provision of healthy food could alleviate this issue. Mobile apps have the potential to deliver such interventions by providing practical behavioral support remotely, interactively, and in context. Objective: This review aimed to identify and assess popular, commercially available food-and nutrition-related mobile apps that offer support for the provision of healthy family food by (1) describing app scope and characteristics, (2) assessing app quality, and (3) conducting a behavioral analysis of app content and features. Methods: Searches in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store between August 2017 and November 2017 identified apps addressing the food provision process. Apps were included if they were applicable to parents or families, written in English, and with a user rating of ≥4 stars. Weight loss and diet monitoring apps and subscription apps with no free versions were excluded. App quality was assessed using the Mobile App Rating Scale (4 domains: engagement, functionality, aesthetics, and information). App content and features were extracted and behavior change techniques (BCTs) identified. Results: Of the 2881 apps screened, 1.77% (51/2881) were included for assessment, comprising 23 recipe and recipe manager apps, 12 meal planning apps, 10 shopping list apps, 4 family organizers, and 2 food choice apps. Half (n=26) of the apps functioned primarily through user data input. Food choice and family organizer apps scored highest for app quality (mean 3.5 [SD 0.6] out of 5), whereas most apps scored well for functionality and poorly for engagement. Common app features with the potential to support healthy food provision included meal planners (n=26), shopping lists (n=44), and the ability to share app content (n=48). Behavioral support features mapped to relatively few BCTs (mean 3.9 [SD 1.9] per app), with Adding objects to the environment present in all apps, and 65% (33/51) including Instruction on how to perform the behavior. Conclusions: Recipe and recipe manager apps, meal planning apps, and family organizers with integrated meal planning and shopping lists scored well for functionality and incorporated behavioral support features that could be used to address barriers to healthy food provision, although features were focused on planning behaviors. Future apps should combine a range of features such as meal planners, shopping lists, simple recipes, reminders and prompts, and food ordering to reduce the burden of the food provision pathway and incorporate a range of BCTs to maximize behavior change potential. Researchers and developers should consider features and content that improve the engagement quality of such apps.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11867
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Dec 2018


  • Behavior modification
  • Diet
  • Family
  • Mobile applications
  • Nutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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