The impact of celebrity influence and national media coverage on users of an alcohol reduction app: a natural experiment

BMC Public Health. 2021 Jan 6;21(1):30. doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-10011-0.


Background: Smartphone apps are increasingly used for health-related behaviour change and people discover apps through different sources. However, it is unclear whether users differ by mode of app discovery. Drink Less is an alcohol reduction app that received national media coverage in the UK caused by celebrity influence (a male TV and radio national broadcaster, aged 51). Our aim was to compare users who discovered the app before and after this coverage.

Methods: A natural experiment assessing the impact of media coverage of Drink Less on users' socio-demographic and drinking characteristics, app engagement levels, and extent of alcohol reduction. The study period was from 17th May 2017 to 23rd January 2019, with media coverage starting on 21st August 2018. Users were 18 years or over, based in the UK and interested in drinking less. Interrupted time series analyses using Generalised Additive Mixed Models were conducted for each outcome variable aggregated at the weekly level.

Results: In 66 weeks prior to the media coverage, 8617 users downloaded the app and 18,959 in 23 weeks afterwards. There was a significant step-level increase in users' mean age (B = 8.17, p < .001) and a decrease in the percentage of female users (B = -27.71, p < .001), though these effects dissipated non-linearly over time. No effect of media coverage was detected on employment type or on the percentage of at-risk drinkers, though the mean Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test score was lower after the media coverage (B = -1.43, p = .031). There was a step-level increase in app engagement - number of sessions (B = 3.45, p = .038) and number of days used (B = 2.30, p = .005) - which continued to increase over time following quadratic trends.

Conclusions: Celebrity influence leading to national media coverage in the UK of the Drink Less app was associated with more people downloading the app who were male, older and engaged with the app; and did not appear to impact employment inequality.

Keywords: Alcohol; Celebrity; Drinking; Endorsement; Engagement; Smartphone app; User characteristics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interrupted Time Series Analysis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Smartphone