New study published: Effects of a collective family-based mobile health intervention called “SMARTFAMILY” on promoting physical activity and healthy eating: Protocol for a randomized controlled trial.

Wunsch, K., Eckert, T., Fiedler, J., Cleven, L., Niermann, C., Reiterer, H., Renner., B., & Woll, A. (2020) Effects of a collective family-based mobile health intervention called “SMARTFAMILY” on promoting physical activity and healthy eating: Protocol for a randomized controlled trial. JMIR Publications, 9(11), e20534. doi:

Background: Numerous smartphone apps are targeting physical activity and healthy eating, but empirical evidence on their effectiveness for initialization and maintenance of behavior change, especially in children and adolescents, is still limited.

Objective: The aim of this study was to conceptualize a theory-based and evidence-based mHealth intervention called SMARTFAMILY (SF) that targets physical activity and healthy eating in a collective family-based setting. Subsequently, the app will be refined and re-evaluated to analyze additional effects of just-in-time adaptive interventions (JITAIs) and gamification features. Methods: A smartphone app based on behavior change theories and behavior change techniques was developed and implemented and will be evaluated with family members individually and cooperatively (SF trial). Existing evidence and gained results were used to refine and will be used to re-evaluate the app (SF2.0 trial). Both trials are cluster randomized controlled trials with 3 measurement occasions. The intervention group uses the app for 3 consecutive weeks, whereas the control group receives no treatment. Baseline measurements (T0) and postintervention measurements (T1) include physical activity (ie, self-reported and accelerometry) and healthy eating measurements (ie, self-reported fruit and vegetable intake) as the primary outcomes. The secondary outcomes (ie, self-reported) are intrinsic motivation, behavior-specific self-efficacy, and the family health climate, complemented by an intentional measure in SF2.0. Four weeks following T1, a follow-up assessment (T2) is completed by the participants, consisting of all questionnaire items to assess the stability of the intervention effects. Mixed-method analysis of covariance will be used to calculate the primary intervention effects (ie, physical activity, fruit and vegetable intake) while controlling for covariates, including family health climate, behavior-specific self-efficacy, and intrinsic motivation.

Results: This study is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and ethically approved by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. For both trials, it is hypothesized that the apps will positively influence physical activity and healthy eating in the whole family. Furthermore, SF2.0 is expected to produce stronger effects (ie, higher effect sizes) compared to SF. SF app development and piloting are completed. Data acquisition for the SF trial is terminated and discontinued due to the COVID-19 pandemic. SF2.0 app development and piloting are completed, while data acquisition is ongoing. Participant recruitment for the SF 2.0 trial started in February 2020. The results for SF are expected to be published in mid-2021, and the results of SF2.0 are expected to be published in mid-2022.

Conclusions: In this study, it is hypothesized that targeting the whole family will facilitate behavior change at the individual level and the family level, as the implemented strategies address changes in daily family life. Furthermore, subsequent app development (SF2.0) with supplementary addition of motivation-enhancing features and a JITAI approach is expected to enhance positive intervention effects.