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BACKGROUND: Increasing physical activity (PA) levels in adolescents aged 12 to 18 years is associated with prevention of unhealthy weight gain and improvement in cardiovascular fitness. The widespread availability of mobile health (mHealth) and wearable devices offers self-monitoring and motivational features for increasing PA levels and improving adherence to exercise programs. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this scoping review was to identify the efficacy or effectiveness of mHealth intervention strategies for facilitating PA among adolescents aged 12 to 18 years. METHODS: We conducted a systematic search for peer-reviewed studies published between 2008 and 2018 in the following electronic databases: PubMed, Google Scholar, PsychINFO, or SportDiscus. The search terms used included mHealth or "mobile health" or apps, "physical activity" or exercise, children or adolescents or teens or "young adults" or kids, and efficacy or effectiveness. Articles published outside of the date range (July 2008 to October 2018) and non-English articles were removed before abstract review. Three reviewers assessed all abstracts against the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Any uncertainties or differences in opinion were discussed as a group. The inclusion criteria were that the studies should (1) have an mHealth component, (2) target participants aged between 12 and 18 years, (3) have results on efficacy or effectiveness, and (4) assess PA-related outcomes. Reviews, abstracts only, protocols without results, and short message service text messaging-only interventions were excluded. We also extracted potentially relevant papers from reviews. At least 2 reviewers examined all full articles for fit with the criteria and extracted data for analysis. Data extracted from selected studies included study population, study type, components of PA intervention, and PA outcome results. RESULTS: Overall, 126 articles were initially identified. Reviewers pulled 18 additional articles from excluded review papers. Only 18 articles were passed onto full review, and 16 were kept for analysis. The included studies differed in the sizes of the study populations (11-607 participants), locations of the study sites (7 countries), study setting, and study design. Overall, 5 mHealth intervention categories were identified: website, website+wearable, app, wearable+app, and website+wearable+app. The most common measures reported were subjective weekly PA (4/13) and objective daily moderate-to-vigorous PA (5/13) of the 19 different PA outcomes assessed. Furthermore, 5 of 13 studies with a control or comparison group showed a significant improvement in PA outcomes between the intervention group and the control or comparison group. Of those 5 studies, 3 permitted isolation of mHealth intervention components in the analysis. CONCLUSIONS: PA outcomes for adolescents improved over time through mHealth intervention use; however, the lack of consistency in chosen PA outcome measures, paucity of significant outcomes via between-group analyses, and the various study designs that prevent separating the effects of intervention components calls into question their true effect.

Original publication




Journal article


JMIR Mhealth Uhealth

Publication Date





adolescent, exercise, mobile health, review, Adolescent, Adolescent Behavior, Behavior Therapy, Child, Exercise, Female, Humans, Male, Telemedicine, Text Messaging