Mhealth for behaviour change: Opportunities, challenges and future directions

Meeting description

Over the past decade, digital interventions have become an increasingly widely used mode of delivery for health-related behaviour change interventions, including public health interventions (e.g. smoking cessation, weight management, physical activity promotion, alcohol reduction), illness management interventions (e.g. to manage asthma, pain and fatigue) and health professional resources (e.g. to manage diabetes jointly with patients).  There is evidence that internet-based interventions can support people to change their behaviour (Kohl, Crutzen, & de Vries, 2013; Webb, Joseph, Yardley, & Michie, 2010).  Until recently, these interventions have principally been designed for access through a PC.  However, with the rapid uptake of smartphones and tablet computers (now used by 1 in 5 people worldwide) attention is shifting to the potential of mobile digital delivery of healthcare support – mhealth (Bacigalupo et al., 2013; Schueller, Muñoz, & Mohr, 2013).

Potential of mhealth

Mhealth interventions are potentially attractive to users as they can provide convenient, private, instant access to automated, expert and peer support to help achieve a wide variety of behavioural goals. Their value for behavioural researchers is that they have the potential to collect detailed longitudinal data about the process of behaviour change from a vastly larger sample of the population than has previously been possible, permitting unprecedented analysis of the factors influencing behaviour change.

Challenges of mhealth

With so many potential mhealth providers, the market has already become saturated with untested and probably unhelpful applications (Azar et al., 2013; Pagoto, Schneider, Jojic, DeBiasse, & Mann, 2013). Rigorous evaluation using experimental designs is problematic because of the opportunity for participants to access other relevant applications. Mobile technology is advancing very rapidly, providing new functionality, that means that lengthy study designs with long-term follow up to establish maintenance may not be appropriate.

Focus and structure of expert meeting

Day 1:  Mhealth intervention:  development and delivery

1.     State-of-the art

  • What is the potential of mhealth for facilitating behaviour change?  What new opportunities does mhealth offer for delivering interventions? What is the evidence that mhealth delivery can improve on other methods?
  • What are the challenges to using mhealth for facilitating behaviour change?  What particular problems are posed by using mhealth for delivering interventions (e.g. for reach and adherence)?

2.    Future directions

  • Given the opportunities and challenges identified in the first session, what are the most promising directions for future mhealth interventions?
  • What methods and resources are required to optimise mhealth intervention delivery?   What new technological developments and business models are needed? 

Day 2:  Mhealth research:  design and evaluation

1.     State-of-the art

  • What is the potential of mhealth for understanding behaviour change?  What new opportunities does mhealth offer for researching behaviour change?
  • What are the methodological challenges for evaluating mhealth interventions (e.g. dropout, difficulty of obtaining objective verification)?

2.     Future directions

  • Given the opportunities and challenges identified in the first session, what are the most promising directions for future mhealth research?
  • How can we optimise mhealth research, and what new design and evaluation methods are needed? 

Facilitators  (further information on the facilitators can be found at their websites)

  • Lucy Yardley leads the extensive ‘LifeGuide’ and ‘UBhave’ programmes of digital research, developing and evaluating interventions for a wide range of health problems
  • Susan Michie has an international reputation for research focused on the design, delivery, uptake and impact of behaviour change interventions related to health
  • Robert West has world-leading expertise in tobacco studies and has developed novel digital interventions for smoking cessation

Meeting output

The aim of this expert meeting is to work towards a publishable output reflecting expert consensus regarding opportunities, challenges and future directions for mhealth intervention and research.  To ensure that all participants are able to contribute to this process we will therefore select a maximum of 20 participants with experience in research on digital interventions.


The applications for this workshop have closed.


Azar, K. M., Lesser, L. I., Laing, B. Y., Stephens, J., Aurora, M. S., Burke, L. E., & Palaniappan, L. P. (2013). Mobile applications for weight management: theory-based content analysis. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45, 583-589.
Bacigalupo, R., Cudd, P., Littlewood, C., Bissell, P., Hawley, M. S., & Buckley Woods, H. (2013). Interventions employing mobile technology for overweight and obesity: an early systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Obesity Reviews, 14, 279-291.
Kohl, L. F., Crutzen, R., & de Vries, N. K. (2013). Online prevention aimed at lifestyle behaviors: a systematic review of reviews. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 15, e146.
Pagoto, S., Schneider, K., Jojic, M., DeBiasse, M., & Mann, D. (2013). Evidence-based strategies in weight-loss mobile apps. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45, 576-582.
Schueller, Stephen M., Muñoz, Ricardo F., & Mohr, David C. (2013). Realizing the Potential of Behavioral Intervention Technologies. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 478-483.
Webb, T.L., Joseph, J., Yardley, L., & Michie, S. (2010). Using the Internet to promote health behavior change: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 12, e4.