Background: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in the United States provides free supplemental food and nutrition education to low-income mothers and children under age 5 years. Childhood obesity prevalence is higher among preschool children in the WIC program compared to other children, and WIC improves dietary quality among low-income children. The Children Eating Well (CHEW) smartphone app was developed in English and Spanish for WIC-participating families with preschool-aged children as a home-based intervention to reinforce WIC nutrition education and help prevent childhood obesity.
Objective: This paper describes the development and beta-testing of the CHEW smartphone app. The objective of beta-testing was to test the CHEW app prototype with target users, focusing on usage, usability, and perceived barriers and benefits of the app.
Methods: The goals of the CHEW app were to make the WIC shopping experience easier, maximize WIC benefit redemption, and improve parent snack feeding practices. The CHEW app prototype consisted of WIC Shopping Tools, including a barcode scanner and calculator tools for the cash value voucher for purchasing fruits and vegetables, and nutrition education focused on healthy snacks and beverages, including a Yummy Snack Gallery and Healthy Snacking Tips. Mothers of 63 black and Hispanic WIC-participating children ages 2 to 4 years tested the CHEW app prototype for 3 months and completed follow-up interviews.
Results: Study participants testing the app for 3 months used the app on average once a week for approximately 4 and a half minutes per session, although substantial variation was observed. Usage of specific features averaged at 1 to 2 times per month for shopping-related activities and 2 to 4 times per month for the snack gallery. Mothers classified as users rated the app's WIC Shopping Tools relatively high on usability and benefits, although variation in scores and qualitative feedback highlighted several barriers that need to be addressed. The Yummy Snack Gallery and Healthy Snacking Tips scored higher on usability than benefits, suggesting that the nutrition education components may have been appealing but too limited in scope and exposure. Qualitative feedback from mothers classified as non-users pointed to several important barriers that could preclude some WIC participants from using the app at all.
Conclusions: The prototype study successfully demonstrated the feasibility of using the CHEW app prototype with mothers of WIC-enrolled black and Hispanic preschool-aged children, with moderate levels of app usage and moderate to high usability and benefits. Future versions with enhanced shopping tools and expanded nutrition content should be implemented in WIC clinics to evaluate adoption and behavioral outcomes. This study adds to the growing body of research focused on the application of technology-based interventions in the WIC program to promote program retention and childhood obesity prevention.
Keywords: health education; mobile apps; pediatric obesity; public health informatics.
©Pamela Hull, Janice S Emerson, Meghan E Quirk, Juan R Canedo, Jessica L Jones, Violetta Vylegzhanina, Douglas C Schmidt, Shelagh A Mulvaney, Bettina M Beech, Chiquita Briley, Calvin Harris, Baqar A Husaini. Originally published in JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth (http://mhealth.jmir.org), 02.08.2017.