A New Tool for Nutrition App Quality Evaluation (AQEL): Development, Validation, and Reliability Testing

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2017 Oct 27;5(10):e163. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.7441.


Background: The extensive availability and increasing use of mobile apps for nutrition-based health interventions makes evaluation of the quality of these apps crucial for integration of apps into nutritional counseling.

Objective: The goal of this research was the development, validation, and reliability testing of the app quality evaluation (AQEL) tool, an instrument for evaluating apps' educational quality and technical functionality.

Methods: Items for evaluating app quality were adapted from website evaluations, with additional items added to evaluate the specific characteristics of apps, resulting in 79 initial items. Expert panels of nutrition and technology professionals and app users reviewed items for face and content validation. After recommended revisions, nutrition experts completed a second AQEL review to ensure clarity. On the basis of 150 sets of responses using the revised AQEL, principal component analysis was completed, reducing AQEL into 5 factors that underwent reliability testing, including internal consistency, split-half reliability, test-retest reliability, and interrater reliability (IRR). Two additional modifiable constructs for evaluating apps based on the age and needs of the target audience as selected by the evaluator were also tested for construct reliability. IRR testing using intraclass correlations (ICC) with all 7 constructs was conducted, with 15 dietitians evaluating one app.

Results: Development and validation resulted in the 51-item AQEL. These were reduced to 25 items in 5 factors after principal component analysis, plus 9 modifiable items in two constructs that were not included in principal component analysis. Internal consistency and split-half reliability of the following constructs derived from principal components analysis was good (Cronbach alpha >.80, Spearman-Brown coefficient >.80): behavior change potential, support of knowledge acquisition, app function, and skill development. App purpose split half-reliability was .65. Test-retest reliability showed no significant change over time (P>.05) for all but skill development (P=.001). Construct reliability was good for items assessing age appropriateness of apps for children, teens, and a general audience. In addition, construct reliability was acceptable for assessing app appropriateness for various target audiences (Cronbach alpha >.70). For the 5 main factors, ICC (1,k) was >.80, with a P value of <.05. When 15 nutrition professionals evaluated one app, ICC (2,15) was .98, with a P value of <.001 for all 7 constructs when the modifiable items were specified for adults seeking weight loss support.

Conclusions: Our preliminary effort shows that AQEL is a valid, reliable instrument for evaluating nutrition apps' qualities for clinical interventions by nutrition clinicians, educators, and researchers. Further efforts in validating AQEL in various contexts are needed.

Keywords: diet, food, and nutrition; dietitians; evaluation; health education; mobile apps.