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Stress, Diet Apps Numerous but Offer Only Short Term Help

Kirsikka Kaipainen

Kirsikka Kaipainen (VTT.fi)

30 May 2014. Online and mobile apps for stress management and healthy eating are numerous and gaining more users, but their impact appears to be short lived, according to an analysis by a researcher in Finland. Kirsikka Kaipainen, a research scientist at VTT Technical Research Centre in Espoo, Finland, published her findings earlier this month in her doctoral dissertation at Tampere University of Technology, also in Finland.

Kaipainen’s dissertation reviewed six studies of online and mobile applications designed to help users manage stress or change dietary habits for their reach and evidence the apps are making a lasting impact. Based on the findings, she offers design principles for future app development.

Results of the analysis indicate mobile and online apps to help manage stress and improve dietary habits are growing in number, as are the numbers of people using the apps. The six studies documented that the apps are reaching users across a range of target audiences and settings. Two of the studies focused on improving eating habits, for example, found some 200,000 users for the apps being studied.

Despite reaching a large audience, the apps appear to have limited staying power among their users. Kaipainen found among the diet apps, less than 10 percent of the users stayed with the program. The stress management apps evaluated in the studies appeared to have a better long-term following, particularly when coupled with human contact.

Kaipainen identified some underlying design principles for self-help apps to help overcome the high attrition rates found in the analysis. Online and mobile apps can encourage behavioral change when they are simple in design and easily integrated into the users’ daily lives. The apps, she says, need to support small daily changes that provide immediate benefits.

Kaipainen has a chance to apply those principles in a start-up company she co-founded, Headsted Oy, providing digital-based services for mild mental health issues, such as anxiety and sleep deprivation. Their services, to be provided through online and mobile channels, are based on acceptance and commitment therapy that seeks to help people attain greater well being through acceptance of one’s current character traits and taking action to make changes in behavior.

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