There is little scientific evidence that mobile health technologies reduce cardiovascular risk factors, but they may encourage healthier lifestyles. This is the message from the American Heart Association in a new statement published in the journal Circulation.

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Around 20% of Smartphone users have one or more health apps on their device, the most common of which track physical activity or heart rate.

Wearable health trackers and Smartphone apps have taken the world by storm in recent years. Around 20% of Smartphone users have one or more health apps on their device, and a 2014 report by Nielsen found 1 in 6 of us use wearable technology – such as fitness trackers – on a daily basis.

According to the authors of the American Heart Association (AHA) statement – including Lora E. Burke of the University of Pittsburgh, PA – the most popular self-monitoring devices and apps are those that track physical activity or heart rate. But do such technologies have a direct impact on heart health?

For their study, Burke and colleagues reviewed a number of meta-analyses and randomized clinical trials of mobile health technologies that had been conducted over the past 10 years.

They investigated how such technologies influenced improvement in risk factors for heart health, as determined by the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7: eating healthily, increasing physical activity, weight management, avoidance of tobacco smoke, reducing blood sugar, cholesterol control and blood pressure control.

The team found that the majority of studies reviewed were short-term studies that were small in size.

When it came to weight management, the researchers found individuals who used mobile health technologies alongside a comprehensive weight-loss program were more likely to lose weight in the short term than individuals who tried to lose weight on their own.

However, the team says there was no published data to show whether weight loss was maintained by technology-using participants over the long term.

The review also revealed that the use of an online fitness program did increase physical activity. When it came to wearable fitness devices, however, the team says not enough research is available to determine whether they can make people more active.

Individuals who used mobile phone apps incorporating text messaging for smoking cessation were almost twice as likely to quit, according to the researchers. But after 6 months of using such apps, the team found 90% of individuals had failed to quit completely. However, they note that using smoking cessation apps alongside a conventional quit-smoking program could work.

On analyzing how mobile health technologies impacted blood sugar reduction and control of cholesterol and blood pressure, the team found there was little or no research in these areas.

Based on their review, Burke and colleagues conclude there is not enough evidence to suggest mobile health technologies have a direct impact on risk factors for heart health, but that is not to say people should not use them. Burke says:

The fact that mobile health technologies haven’t been fully studied doesn’t mean that they are not effective. Self-monitoring is one of the core strategies for changing cardiovascular health behaviors. If a mobile health technology, such as a smartphone app for self-monitoring diet, weight or physical activity, is helping you improve your behavior, then stick with it.”

The authors call for more research to be conducted that investigates how wearable technologies and Smartphone apps affect health, as well as looking at how such technologies can be incorporated into clinical practice to improve patient outcomes.

In September 2014, a Spotlight from Medical News Today investigated whether health apps do more harm than good. More recently, MNT conducted a review of some of the most popular sleep and activity trackers on the market.