Adults' preferences for behavior change techniques and engagement features in a mobile app to promote 24-hour movement behaviors: cross-sectional survey study

Ann DeSmet, Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij, Sebastien Chastin, Geert Crombez, Ralph Maddison, Greet Cardon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
61 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: There is a limited understanding of components that should be included in digital interventions for 24-hour movement behaviors (physical activity [PA], sleep, and sedentary behavior [SB]). For intervention effectiveness, user engagement is important. This can be enhanced by a user-centered design to, for example, explore and integrate user preferences for intervention techniques and features.

OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to examine adult users' preferences for techniques and features in mobile apps for 24-hour movement behaviors.

METHODS: A total of 86 participants (mean age 37.4 years [SD 9.2]; 49/86, 57% female) completed a Web-based survey. Behavior change techniques (BCTs) were based on a validated taxonomy v2 by Abraham and Michie, and engagement features were based on a list extracted from the literature. Behavioral data were collected using Fitbit trackers. Correlations, (repeated measures) analysis of variance, and independent sample t tests were used to examine associations and differences between and within users by the type of health domain and users' behavioral intention and adoption.

RESULTS: Preferences were generally the highest for information on the health consequences of movement behavior self-monitoring, behavioral feedback, insight into healthy lifestyles, and tips and instructions. Although the same ranking was found for techniques across behaviors, preferences were stronger for all but one BCT for PA in comparison to the other two health behaviors. Although techniques fit user preferences for addressing PA well, supplemental techniques may be able to address preferences for sleep and SB in a better manner. In addition to what is commonly included in apps, sleep apps should consider providing tips for sleep. SB apps may wish to include more self-regulation and goal-setting techniques. Few differences were found by users' intentions or adoption to change a particular behavior. Apps should provide more self-monitoring (P=.03), information on behavior health outcome (P=.048), and feedback (P=.04) and incorporate social support (P=.048) to help those who are further removed from healthy sleep. A virtual coach (P<.001) and video modeling (P=.004) may provide appreciated support to those who are physically less active. PA self-monitoring appealed more to those with an intention to change PA (P=.03). Social comparison and support features are not high on users' agenda and may not be needed from an engagement point of view. Engagement features may not be very relevant for user engagement but should be examined in future research with a less reflective method.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings of this study provide guidance for the design of digital 24-hour movement behavior interventions. As 24-hour movement guidelines are increasingly being adopted in several countries, our study findings are timely to support the design of interventions to meet these guidelines.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15707
Number of pages11
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2019


  • physical activity; sleep; sedentary behavior; 24-hour movement; mobile health; mobile apps; behavior change technique; engagement; adult
  • Engagement
  • Sedentary behavior
  • Sleep
  • Physical activity
  • 24-hour movement
  • Mobile health
  • Adult
  • Mobile apps
  • Behavior change technique

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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