Smartphone Apps for Measuring Human Health and Climate Change Co-Benefits: A Comparison and Quality Rating of Available Apps

Rachel K. Sullivan, Samantha Marsh, Jakob Halvarsson, Michelle Holdsworth, Wilma Waterlander, Maartje P. Poelman, Jennifer Ann Salmond, Hayley Christian, Lenny S. C. Koh, Janet E. Cade, John C. Spence, Alistair Woodward, Ralph Maddison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Web of Science)


Background: Climate change and the burden of noncommunicable diseases are major global challenges. Opportunities exist to investigate health and climate change co-benefits through a shift from motorized to active transport (walking and cycling) and a shift in dietary patterns away from a globalized diet to reduced consumption of meat and energy dense foods. Given the ubiquitous use and proliferation of smartphone apps, an opportunity exists to use this technology to capture individual travel and dietary behavior and the associated impact on the environment and health.

Objective: The objective of the study is to identify, describe the features, and rate the quality of existing smartphone apps which capture personal travel and dietary behavior and simultaneously estimate the carbon cost and potential health consequences of these actions.

Methods: The Google Play and Apple App Stores were searched between October 19 and November 6, 2015, and a secondary Google search using the apps filter was conducted between August 8 and September 18, 2016. Eligible apps were required to estimate the carbon cost of personal behaviors with the potential to include features to maximize health outcomes. The quality of included apps was assessed by 2 researchers using the Mobile Application Rating Scale (MARS).

Results: Out of 7213 results, 40 apps were identified and rated. Multiple travel-related apps were identified, however no apps solely focused on the carbon impact or health consequences of dietary behavior. None of the rated apps provided sufficient information on the health consequences of travel and dietary behavior. Some apps included features to maximize participant engagement and encourage behavior change towards reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Most apps were rated as acceptable quality as determined by the MARS; 1 was of poor quality and 10 apps were of good quality. Interrater reliability of the 2 evaluators was excellent (ICC= 0.94, 95% CI 0.87-0.97).

Conclusions: Existing apps capturing travel and dietary behavior and the associated health and environmental impact are of mixed quality. Most apps do not include all desirable features or provide sufficient health information. Further research is needed to determine the potential of smartphone apps to evoke behavior change resulting in climate change and health co-benefits.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere135
Number of pages15
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


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