Effectiveness of holistic mobile health interventions on diet, and physical, and mental health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date









Holistic; Meta-analysis; Prevention; Systematic review; mHealth intervention


BACKGROUND: Good physical and mental health are essential for healthy ageing. Holistic mobile health (mHealth) interventions-including at least three components: physical activity, diet, and mental health-could support both physical and mental health and be scaled to the population level. This review aims to describe the characteristics of holistic mHealth interventions and their effects on related behavioural and health outcomes among adults from the general population. METHODS: In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we searched MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, PsycINFO, Scopus, China National Knowledge Infrastructure, and Google Scholar (first 200 records). The initial search covered January 1, 2011, to April 13, 2022, and an updated search extended from April 13, 2022 to August 30, 2023. Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and non-randomised studies of interventions (NRSIs) were included if they (i) were delivered via mHealth technologies, (ii) included content on physical activity, diet, and mental health, and (iii) targeted adults (≥18 years old) from the general population or those at risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) or mental disorders. Studies were excluded if they targeted pregnant women (due to distinct physiological responses), individuals with pre-existing NCDs or mental disorders (to emphasise prevention), or primarily utilised web, email, or structured phone support (to focus on mobile technologies without exclusive human support). Data (summary data from published reports) extraction and risk-of-bias assessment were completed by two reviewers using a standard template and Cochrane risk-of-bias tools, respectively. Narrative syntheses were conducted for all studies, and random-effects models were used in the meta-analyses to estimate the pooled effect of interventions for outcomes with comparable data in the RCTs. The study was registered in PROSPERO, CRD42022315166. FINDINGS: After screening 5488 identified records, 34 studies (25 RCTs and 9 pre-post NRSIs) reported in 43 articles with 5691 participants (mean age 39 years, SD 12.5) were included. Most (91.2%, n = 31/34) were conducted in high-income countries. The median intervention duration was 3 months, and only 23.5% (n = 8/34) of studies reported follow-up data. Mobile applications, short-message services, and mobile device-compatible websites were the most common mHealth delivery modes; 47.1% (n = 16/34) studies used multiple mHealth delivery modes. Of 15 studies reporting on weight change, 9 showed significant reductions (6 targeted on individuals with overweight or obesity), and in 10 studies reporting perceived stress levels, 4 found significant reductions (all targeted on general adults). In the meta-analysis, holistic mHealth interventions were associated with significant weight loss (9 RCTs; mean difference -1.70 kg, 95% CI -2.45 to -0.95; I = 89.00%) and a significant reduction in perceived stress levels (6 RCTs; standardised mean difference [SMD] -0.32; 95% CI -0.52 to -0.12; I = 14.52%). There were no significant intervention effects on self-reported moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (5 RCTs; SMD 0.21; 95%CI -0.25 to 0.67; I = 74.28%) or diet quality scores (5 RCTs; SMD 0.21; 95%CI -0.47 to 0.65; I = 62.27%). All NRSIs were labelled as having a serious risk of bias overall; 56% (n = 14/25) of RCTs were classified as having some concerns, and the others as having a high risk of bias. INTERPRETATION: Findings from identified studies suggest that holistic mHealth interventions may aid reductions in weight and in perceived stress levels, with small to medium effect sizes. The observed effects on diet quality scores and self-reported moderate-to-vigorous physical activity were less clear and require more research. High-quality RCTs with longer follow-up durations are needed to provide more robust evidence. To promote population health, future research should focus on vulnerable populations and those in middle- and low-income countries. Optimal combinations of delivery modes and components to improve efficacy and sustain long-term effects should also be explored. FUNDING: National Research Foundation, Prime Minister's Office, Singapore, under its Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) Programme and Physical Activity and Nutrition Determinants in Asia (PANDA) Research Programme.


Exercise and Nutrition Sciences