Can Apps Make Air Pollution Visible? Learning About Health Impacts Through Engagement with Air Quality Information

  • Magali A. DelmasEmail author
  • Aanchal Kohli
Original Paper


Air pollution is one of the largest environmental health risks globally but is often imperceptible to people. Air quality smartphone applications (commonly called apps) provide real-time localized air quality information and have the potential to help people learn about the health effects of air pollution and enable them to take action to protect their health. Hundreds of air quality apps are now available; however, there is scant information on how effective these mobile apps are at educating stakeholders about air pollution and promoting behavioral change to protect their health. In this paper, we test how intrinsic and extrinsic motivations can enhance users’ engagement with air quality information through an app, and favor changes in protective behavior. We developed an air quality app, AirForU, with a built-in research study that was downloaded by 2740 users. We found that engagement was higher for users with intrinsic motivations, such as those who are health conscious, either because they are suffering from heart disease or other conditions aggravated by air pollution, or because they exercise frequently and want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Extrinsic motivations such as notifications were also effective. App users stated that they frequently shared air quality information with others, learned about the Air Quality Index (AQI), and took measures to protect their health while using AirForU app.


Air pollution Information strategies Mobile applications Information technologies Sustainability Health protection Behavior change 



We thank Stephen Locke, Victor Chen, Jinghui Lim, Qingwei (Peter) Lan and Walter Qian for their important contribution to the development of AirForU. We thank Linda Ho and Kristen Lineberger of UCLA Health for their marketing and media support.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declared that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The study was approved by the IRB (Protocol ID #15-000215).

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UCLA Institute of the Environment & SustainabilityLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.UCLA Anderson School of ManagementLos AngelesUSA

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