Formative evaluation on cultural tailoring breathing awareness meditation smartphone apps to reduce stress and blood pressure

Mhealth. 2017 Oct 19;3:44. doi: 10.21037/mhealth.2017.09.04. eCollection 2017.


Background: Chronic stress is an independent risk factor for essential hypertension (EH), cardiovascular disease (CVD), and is sometimes confronted by mal-adaptive coping behaviors (e.g., stress eating, excessive alcohol consumption, etc.). Pre-essential hypertension (preEH) is the leading predictor of future EH status. Breathing awareness meditation (BAM) can result in clinically beneficial blood pressure (BP) reductions, though face-to-face sessions presents barriers to reach those in need. The purpose of this study was to identify if a culturally tailored approach is needed in the design and preferences between groups of preEH African American and White adults toward using a smartphone BAM app, the Tension Tamer (TT) app.

Methods: TT includes audio delivered BAM instructions, real-time heart rate, feedback graphs and motivational reinforcement text messaging. Questionnaires and two focus groups each of African American and White adults, [n=34, mean age =43.1 years, (SD 13.8 years), 44.1% African American] were conducted to understand stress, EH knowledge, app usage along with feedback from a hands-on demonstration of TT. Grounded theory using NVivo 10 was used to develop themes and combined with the questionnaires in the analysis.

Results: No racial differences were found in the analysis including app use scenarios, preferences, knowledge, technology use or the attitudes and acceptance toward mobile health (mHealth) programs. Reported stress was high for African Americans [PSS-4: mean 6.87 (SD 3.3) versus mean 4.56 (SD 2.6); P=0.03]. Four main themes were found: (I) stress was pervasive; (II) coping strategies were both positive and negative; (III) BAM training was easy to incorporated; and (IV) tracking stress responses was useful. Responses suggest that additional personalization of app interfaces may drive ownership and adherence to protocols. Measures and reports of heart rate monitoring while in session were favorably viewed with low issues with confidentiality or trust issues on collected session data.

Conclusions: Results suggest that a culturally tailored approach may be unnecessary in the design of BAM apps. Further investigation is warranted for other racial groups, age ranges, and disease conditions.

Keywords: Essential hypertension (EH); grounded theory; meditation; mobile health (mHealth); stress reduction.