Smartphone application self-tracking use and health

Guffey, Thomas
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Smartphones health apps appear to be important tools that can be used for health management and self-tracking. Research has not fully identified to what degree mobile health apps influence health outcomes. The current study assesses the notion of a digital cyborg assemblage by testing the effects of smartphone app use and self-tracking on health outcomes in the general population of U.S. adults. The primary hypotheses are that individuals who use smartphone apps for self-tracking are more likely to have better health than those who do not use smartphone apps for self-tracking and that individuals who self-track health indicators for any reason are more likely to have better health than those who do not track.

The data for this study come from Pew Research Center’s Mobile Health 2012 dataset with a final sample size of 1,799 respondents. Multinomial logistic regression on self-reported health and ordinary least squares regression on an index of health conditions are used to test the hypotheses and assess the relationships between the relevant predictor variables and health outcomes. Having a smartphone app is found to be a weak predictor of health outcomes when other factors are held constant. Self-tracking for diet or exercise is associated with lower odds of being in a lower category of health compared to excellent, but does not affect the odds of being in better than poor health. Self-tracking for other health reasons is associated with poorer health. App users that self-track for reasons other than diet or exercise are more likely to report excellent health than good health compared to nonapp users. Internet use interacts with app use to increase the odds of being in good health as opposed to excellent health. Women that use apps have lower odds of being in only good health relative to excellent health compared to women who are nonapp users. The effect is weaker for men. Nonwhite app users display fewer conditions on average compared to whites. The results are not conclusive that smartphone apps improve health but they do demonstrate the importance of the reasons for self-tracking to health outcomes and the relative importance of demographic data to health outcomes.

Social sciences, Apps, Health, Self-tracking, Smartphone