Promoting Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in North America Using Free Mobile Apps: Environmental Scan

JMIR Pediatr Parent. 2022 Oct 4;5(4):e33826. doi: 10.2196/33826.


Background: Neglecting adolescents' sexual and reproductive health (SRH) can affect multiple domains of development. Promoting healthy adolescent SRH is increasingly done using mobile phone apps. Providing SRH information via mobile phones can positively influence SRH outcomes including improving knowledge, reducing sexual risk behavior, and increasing the use of health services. A systematic approach to establishing and evaluating the quality of adolescent SRH mobile apps is urgently needed to rigorously evaluate whether they are a viable and effective strategy for reaching adolescents and improving adolescent SRH knowledge and behaviors in particular.

Objective: This study aimed to conduct an environmental scan to produce an inventory of adolescent SRH-specific mobile apps with descriptions of their purpose, structure, operations, and quality of evidence.

Methods: We used a literature review to develop 15 search terms for adolescent SRH-related apps in the Canadian and US Apple and Google app stores. After generating the search results, inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied. Using the remaining apps, we built an evidence table of app information, and app reviewers assessed each included app using the Mobile App Rating Scale. App assessments were then used to highlight trends between apps and identify gaps in app quality.

Results: In total, 2761 apps were identified by our searches, of which 1515 were duplicates. Of the 1246 remaining apps, 15 met the criteria for further assessment. Across all subdomains, on a scale of 1-5, the mean app score was 3.4/5. The Functionality subdomain had the highest mean score of 4.1/5, whereas the Engagement subdomain had the lowest score of 2.9/5. The top 4 apps were Tia: Female Health Advisor (4.7/5), Under the Stethoscope (4.2/5), Condom Credit Card (4.1/5), and Shnet (3.7/5).

Conclusions: This environmental scan aimed to provide a comprehensive overview of the mobile apps developed to promote adolescent SRH knowledge and outcomes. Of the 15 mobile apps available to provide information related to adolescent SRH, few provided comprehensive, reliable, and evidence-based SRH information. Areas of strength included the apps' gestural design, performance, ease of use, and navigation. Areas of weakness included app goals, evidence base, and app customization options. These results can be used to conduct future studies evaluating the use and efficacy of mobile apps on health knowledge and behaviors and promote adolescent SRH.

Keywords: MARS; Mobile App Rating Scale; adolescent; adolescents; digital health; environmental scan; health; mHealth; mobile app; mobile health; reproductive; reproductive health; sexual; sexual and reproductive health; sexual health.