JMIR mHealth and uHealth (2020-07-01)

Exclusively Digital Health Interventions Targeting Diet, Physical Activity, and Weight Gain in Pregnant Women: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

  • Rhodes, Alexandra,
  • Smith, Andrea D,
  • Chadwick, Paul,
  • Croker, Helen,
  • Llewellyn, Clare H

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 8, no. 7
p. e18255


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BackgroundInterventions to promote a healthy diet, physical activity, and weight management during pregnancy are increasingly embracing digital technologies. Although some interventions have combined digital with interpersonal (face-to-face or telephone) delivery, others have relied exclusively on digital delivery. Exclusively digital interventions have the advantages of greater cost-effectiveness and broader reach and as such can be a valuable resource for health care providers. ObjectiveThis systematic review aims to focus on exclusively digital interventions to determine their effectiveness, identify behavior change techniques (BCTs), and investigate user engagement. MethodsA total of 6 databases (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online [MEDLINE], Excerpta Medica dataBASE [EMBASE], PsycINFO, Cumulated Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature [CINAHL] Plus, Web of Science, and ProQuest) were searched for randomized controlled trials or pilot control trials of exclusively digital interventions to encourage healthy eating, physical activity, or appropriate weight gain during pregnancy. The outcome measures were gestational weight gain (GWG) and changes in physical activity and dietary behaviors. Study quality was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool 2.0. Where possible, pooled effect sizes were calculated using a random effects meta-analysis. ResultsIn total, 11 studies met the inclusion criteria. The risk of bias was mostly high (n=5) or moderate (n=3). Of the 11 studies, 6 reported on GWG as the primary outcome, 4 of which also measured changes in physical activity and dietary behaviors, and 5 studies focused either on dietary behaviors only (n=2) or physical activity only (n=3). The meta-analyses showed no significant benefit of interventions on total GWG for either intention-to-treat data (−0.28 kg; 95% CI −1.43 to 0.87) or per-protocol data (−0.65 kg; 95% CI −1.98 to 0.67). Substantial heterogeneity in outcome measures of change in dietary behaviors and physical activity precluded further meta-analyses. BCT coding identified 7 BCTs that were common to all effective interventions. Effective interventions averaged over twice as many BCTs from the goals and planning, and feedback and monitoring domains as ineffective interventions. Data from the 6 studies reporting on user engagement indicated a positive association between high engagement with key BCTs and greater intervention effectiveness. Interventions using proactive messaging and feedback appeared to have higher levels of engagement. ConclusionsIn contrast to interpersonal interventions, there is little evidence of the effectiveness of exclusively digital interventions to encourage a healthy diet, physical activity, or weight management during pregnancy. In this review, effective interventions used proactive messaging, such as reminders to engage in BCTs, feedback on progress, or tips, suggesting that interactivity may drive engagement and lead to greater effectiveness. Given the benefits of cost and reach of digital interventions, further research is needed to understand how to use advancing technologies to enhance user engagement and improve effectiveness.