The prevalence and consequences of obesity among children and adolescents remain a leading global public health concern, and evidence-based, multidisciplinary lifestyle interventions are the cornerstone of treatment. Mobile electronic devices are widely used across socioeconomic categories and may provide a means of extending the reach and efficiency of health care interventions.
We aimed to synthesize the evidence regarding mobile health (mHealth) for the treatment of childhood overweight and obesity to map the breadth and nature of the literature in this field and describe the characteristics of published studies.
We conducted a systematic scoping review in line with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for scoping reviews, by searching nine academic databases in addition to gray literature for studies describing acceptability, usability, feasibility, effectiveness, adherence, or cost-effectiveness of interventions assessing mHealth for childhood obesity treatment. We also hand searched the reference lists of relevant articles. Studies aimed at the prevention of overweight or obesity were excluded, as were studies in which mHealth was not the primary mode of treatment delivery for at least one study arm or was not independently assessed. A random portion of all abstracts and full texts was double screened by a second reviewer to ensure consistency. Data were charted according to study characteristics, including design, participants, intervention content, behavior change theory (BCT) underpinning the study, mode of delivery, and outcomes measured.
We identified 42 eligible studies assessing acceptability (n=7), usability (n=2), feasibility or pilot studies (n=15), treatment effect (n=17), and fidelity (n=1). Change in BMI z-scores or percentiles was most commonly measured, among a variety of dietary, physical activity, psychological, and usability or acceptability measures. SMS, mobile apps, and wearable devices made up the majority of mobile interventions, and 69% (29/42) of the studies specified a BCT used.
Pediatric weight management using mHealth is an emerging field, with most work to date aimed at developing and piloting such interventions. Few large trials are published, and these are heterogeneous in nature and rarely reported according to the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials for eHealth guidelines. There is an evidence gap in the cost-effectiveness analyses of such studies.