Noncommunicable Disease Risk Factors and Mobile Phones: A Proposed Research Agenda

J Med Internet Res. 2017 May 5;19(5):e133. doi: 10.2196/jmir.7246.


Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) account for two-thirds of all deaths globally, with 75% of these occurring in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Many LMICs seek cost-effective methods to obtain timely and quality NCD risk factor data that could inform resource allocation, policy development, and assist evaluation of NCD trends over time. Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of mobile phone ownership and access in LMICs, which, if properly harnessed, has great potential to support risk factor data collection. As a supplement to traditional face-to-face surveys, the ubiquity of phone ownership has made large proportions of most populations reachable through cellular networks. However, critical gaps remain in understanding the ways by which mobile phone surveys (MPS) could aid in collection of NCD data in LMICs. Specifically, limited information exists on the optimization of these surveys with regard to incentives and structure, comparative effectiveness of different MPS modalities, and key ethical, legal, and societal issues (ELSI) in the development, conduct, and analysis of these surveys in LMIC settings. We propose a research agenda that could address important knowledge gaps in optimizing MPS for the collection of NCD risk factor data in LMICs and provide an example of a multicountry project where elements of that agenda aim to be integrated over the next two years.

Keywords: mHealth; mobile phone; noncommunicable disease; research agenda; survey.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Noncommunicable Diseases / psychology*
  • Research Design
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires