The impact of Physical Activity Health Apps with 14 - 16 year olds, a recent MSc study
I am delighted that I have recently received my grade for my MSc (GBC) Psychology dissertation which signifies my completion of the course! The initial positive feedback is pleasing as the research area, methodology and participant population was challenging and required a great deal of time in planning and researching. For my MSc dissertation, I wanted to investigate a contemporary health psychology area that involved analysing behaviour change techniques (BCTs) and an mHealth intervention approach.
I investigated how effective physical activity mobile apps are in increasing physical activity levels amongst 14 - 16 year olds. I adapted a physical activity questionnaire (PAQ-A) used in previous NHS research, initially to screen sedentary participants (N=39) from a large sample of year 10 & 11 pupils(N=420) attending a secondary school in the West Midlands. The research involved 2 mobile app groups and a control group. The study was longitudinal, involving the PAQ-A being repeated at 3 intervals over an eight week period. The interval data collected from the questionnaires was presented in a table, presenting the mean scores of activity levels for each group. A mixed ANOVA, between design analysis was performed using SPSS in order to elucidate any variance between the 3 groups.
One of the strengths of the study was the inclusion of adolescent 14 - 16 year old participants as a sample group. I chose this demographic as adolescents are an 'at risk' age group as demographically, compared with younger children, older school children are prone to higher levels of sedentary behaviours. There was a gap in research as I did not find any studies that had been undertaken examining the effectiveness of mobile apps with adolescent participants. This choice of demographic sample was not without its challenges in terms of research design and it involved detailed considerations in research planning and application for ethical approval.
The planning within the study needed to be detailed and robust, involving lesson planning of sessions with the participants, presentations to the School Leadership Team (SLT) and school staff along with administration of paperwork for consent forms for both participants, guardians and the school's designated Gatekeeper. I worked within the school procedures and policies and strong verbal communication and confidence in delivery was needed with PowerPoint presentations, delivery of sessions and instructions to participants and responding to questions raised by school leaders, participants and personal tutors. I needed to be aware of and compliant with safeguarding procedures including risk assessments, gaining consent and the ethical documents and guidelines of working with children as vulnerable participants.
Although there were challenges, I am extremely pleased with how the research has made a significant contribution todeveloping an understanding of mobile health interventions. There was an app that had significant impact over the eight week period and the additional behaviour change techniques of self management through goal setting and scheduling may have contributed to the increased physical activity. There were missed opportunities in relation to undertaking a multi method design, using interviewing and a grounded theory approach to investigate the experiences, opinions and motivation of the participants in more detail. Moreover, the grounded theory approach may have contributed to new concepts and theories relating to behaviour change and mHealth interventions. The multi method approach was not feasible due to the time factors of the year 10 & 11 pupils as exam priorities meant that they were unavailable for a final qualitative phase of enquiry. However, I am delighted with is that the app intervention may be used within the school curriculum for learners, as a means of increasing levels of physical activity.
If you are interested in the study please contact me, I would be delighted to discuss the research in more detail.