Incorporating Health Behavior Theory into mHealth: an Examination of Weight Loss, Dietary, and Physical Activity Interventions

  • Jessica K. Salwen-DeremerEmail author
  • Alyssa S. Khan
  • Seth S. Martin
  • Breanna M. Holloway
  • Janelle W. Coughlin


Health behavior interventions are effective for many modifiable lifestyle behaviors. In some cases, remotely-delivered behavioral interventions, particularly those that include some form of contact with a clinician and strong behavioral strategies, have been shown to be as effective as traditional in-person interventions; they are also more flexible, disseminable, and cost-effective. With ubiquitous increases in mobile phone use, opportunities for remote delivery of health interventions (mHealth) have grown exponentially, particularly in the use of behavioral smartphone applications. Despite research suggesting that mHealth interventions can be effective at initiating and maintaining behavior changes, many mHealth interventions are not theoretically-based, and evidence-based behavioral strategies are not often adapted into the mobile format. Thus, there is a need for clear summaries of behavioral change theories and examples of theoretically driven behavioral strategies to unify and improve the field of mHealth. The authors review the existing literature on theories of behavior change, intervention, and systems for evaluating theoretical content. Specifically, the authors briefly summarize both traditional and contemporary theories of behavior change, evidence-based behavioral strategies, and the methods for evaluating the degree to which they are included in existing mHealth behavioral interventions, with an emphasis on weight loss, dietary, and physical activity interventions. Authors also include examples of integration of theory into both research and clinical practice. This research highlights the importance of incorporation of theory into behavior change interventions. The authors suggest specific theoretical considerations for the development of mHealth interventions within collaborative, interdisciplinary environments, and recommend future research areas.


mHealth Health behavior Lifestyle Technology Weight loss Physical activity 


Funding Source

Dr. Martin – Aetna Foundation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Dr. Martin is a founder of and holds equity in Corrie Health, which intends to further develop the platform. This arrangement has been reviewed and approved by the Johns Hopkins University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies. He has served on the scientific advisory boards of Amgen, Sanofi, Regeneron, Esperion, Novo Nordisk, Quest Diagnostics, and Akcea Therapeutics and reports grants from Apple, Google, iHealth, Nokia, the Maryland Innovation Initiative, American Heart Association, Aetna Foundation, PJ Schafer Memorial Fund, and David and June Trone Family Foundation.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical CenterLebanonUSA
  2. 2.Milken Institute School of Public HealthGeorge Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical ResearchJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Johns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  5. 5.University of MarylandBaltimoreUSA

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