A Focus Group Study Among Inactive Adults Regarding the Perceptions of a Theory-Based Physical Activity App

Nicky Nibbeling, Monique Simons, Karlijn Sporrel, Marije Deutekom

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Background: Despite the increasing attention for the positive effects of physical activity (PA), nearly half of the Dutch citizens do not meet the national PA guidelines. A promising method for increasing PA are mobile exercise applications (apps), especially if they are embedded with theoretically supported persuasive strategies (e.g., goal setting and feedback) that align with the needs and wishes of the user. In addition, it is argued that the operationalization of the persuasive strategies could increase the effectiveness of the app, such as the actual content or visualization of feedback. Although much research has been done to examine the preferences for persuasive strategies, little is known about the needs, wishes, and preferences for the design and operationalization of persuasive strategies.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to get insight in the needs, wishes, and preferences regarding the practical operationalization of persuasive strategies in a mobile application aimed at promoting PA in healthy inactive adults.

Methods: Five semistructured focus groups were performed. During the focus groups, the participants were led into a discussion about the design and operationalization of six predefined theory-based persuasive strategies (e.g., self-monitoring, feedback, goal setting, reminders, rewards, and social support) directed by two moderators. The audio-recorded focus groups were transcribed verbatim and analyzed following the framework approach.

Results: Eight men and 17 women between 35 and 55 years (mean age, 49.2) participated in the study. Outcomes demonstrated diverse preferences for implementation types and design characteristics of persuasive strategies in mobile applications. Basic statistics (such as distance, time and calories), positive feedback based on easy-to-achieve goals that relate to health guidelines, and motivating reminders on a relevant moment were preferred. Participants had mixed preferences regarding rewards and a social platform to invite other users to join PA.

Conclusions: Findings indicated that in mHealth applications for healthy but inactive adults, persuasive strategies should be designed and implemented in a way that they relate to health guidelines. Moreover, there is a need for an app that can be adapted or can learn based on personal preferences as, for example, preferences with regard to timing of feedback and reminders differed between people.
Original languageEnglish
Article number528388
Pages (from-to)1-10
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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