A Digital Health Program Targeting Physical Activity Among Adolescents With Overweight or Obesity: Open Trial

JMIR Pediatr Parent. 2022 Mar 28;5(1):e32420. doi: 10.2196/32420.


Background: Prior studies suggest that mobile health physical activity programs that provide only weekly or daily text-based health coaching evidence limit the efficacy in improving physical activity in adolescents with overweight or obesity. It is possible that incentives, combined with health coaching and daily feedback on goal success, may increase program efficacy; however, such programs have not yet been tested with adolescents with overweight and obesity.

Objective: This study aims to examine the feasibility and acceptability of a 12-week, incentive-based, mobile health physical activity program with text-based health coaching, goal setting, and self-monitoring for adolescents with overweight or obesity. Program adherence and changes in tracked physical activity (ie, steps and active minutes while wearing a Fitbit [Google LLC]), body mass, and body fat are assessed.

Methods: A total of 28 adolescents aged 13 to 18 years with a BMI ≥90th percentile participated in the program. Of the 28 participants, 2 (7%) were lost to follow-up; thus, data from 26 (93%) participants were used in analyses.

Results: Participant-reported acceptability was high, with all mean ratings of text-based coaching, Fitbit use, and the overall program being >5 on a 7-point scale. In addition, 85% (23/26) of participants reported that they would like to continue to wear the Fitbit. Program adherence was also high, as participants wore the Fitbit on 91.1% (SD 12.6%) of days on average and met their weekly goals for an average of 7 (SD 3.5) of 11 possible weeks. There were no demographic (ie, sex, age, and baseline body mass) differences in the percentage of days participants wore their Fitbit. Across the 12-week study, there were significant improvements in tracked daily active minutes (P=.006) and steps (P<.001) and significant pre- to posttest improvements in body fat percentage (P=.04).

Conclusions: The pilot program improved adolescent physical activity and physical health. A larger factorial design trial with adaptive daily goals may clarify the role of each program component in driving physical activity.

Keywords: adolescent obesity; adolescent overweight; incentives; mHealth program; mobile phone; physical activity.