Skip to content

Using a smartphone to improve health

Can a smartphone be used to help overweight women of reproductive age in underserved rural and urban communities improve their health? That’s the question Danielle Symons Downs’ pilot research project looked to answer. She partnered with Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania to study the effectiveness of using smartphones to deliver a program called Strong Healthy Women in central Pennsylvania communities.

A head-and-shoulders professional photo of Danielle Symons Downs, PhD

Danielle Symons Downs, PhD

Forty women were invited to participate in a one-time, 90-minute focus group or an individual structured interview to review content from the Strong Healthy Women preconceptional intervention program. The program focused on healthy behaviors such as physical activity, nutrition, stress and weight management. They gave their thoughts about which content could be delivered best by smartphone. They also provided their beliefs about using smartphones in general for behavior change.

“The Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania was essential in the development process of the initial Strong Healthy Women intervention and played a key role in allowing us to recruit women and conduct focus group interviews at their locations,” Symons Downs said. “This allowed us to recruit women residing in rural communities across central Pennsylvania for a more diverse and representative sample.”

Women preferred to receive the Strong Healthy Women communications, surveys and educational materials on their smartphones via texting, mobile websites and a phone app. Using the smartphone to track dietary intake and wearing an activity tracker were also preferable methods for tracking energy intake and expenditure.

Women also identified advantages of using smartphones for behavioral interventions, including being convenient, useful and able to provide social support. Primary disadvantages were annoyances and needing technology support for phone problems.

“Community engagement allowed us to understand the opinions, perceptions and thoughts on how and why to make modifications to the research so that the Strong Healthy Women program is more suitable for preconception women’s unique needs in the ever-changing landscape of mobile technology,” Symons Downs said.

Symons Downs, a professor of kinesiology and obstetrics and gynecology, is now working to secure additional funding to test the use of the Strong Healthy Women smartphone program in a larger population.

Read more

Learn more about this research in these published articles:

Support for Community-Engaged Research

Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute offers community-engaged research consultations to the Penn State community. Learn more about resources offered here. To request a consultation, complete a service request form.

If you're having trouble accessing this content, or would like it in another format, please email the Penn State College of Medicine web department.