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Analyst Pulse: The Growing Use of Mobile Health and Fitness Apps

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Abstract: To better understand the usage trends of mobile health and fitness apps around the world, Passport Survey reached out to Euromonitor International’s global network of analysts from 80+ countries.


In the past decade, mobile phones have transformed from simple calling devices to complex smartphones that give users access to nearly infinite information. One of the ways that smartphones have altered day-to-day life is through health and fitness apps. Whereas, previously, people only had the option of calling their doctors for information on symptoms, there are now apps, such as those from WebMD and the American Academy of Paediatrics, that provide a similar service. Likewise, those looking to get in shape used to have to pay for a nutritionist or a trainer, but smartphones have even alleviated that need with apps like Workout Trainer and Lose it! While many of these apps are still gaining ground, smartphone users are relying more on technology than ever before.

General use and reliability

Mobile health and fitness most popular amongst younger users

While mobile health and fitness apps are quickly transitioning into the mainstream, the vast majority of respondents still rely on old-fashioned methods of obtaining information—especially when it comes to health concerns. Only 10% of respondents said that they seek general health-related information from apps, with respondents ages 18-29 comprising the majority of users. Fitness apps, whose popularity is also spearheaded by younger users, have a slightly stronger positioning in the industry, as an average of 15% of respondents said they look to apps for diet and exercise advice. Even though the percentages only reflect a minority of respondents, the trend towards smartphones and apps is growing exponentially.

Health and fitness apps show increasing reliability, especially among young people

By a large margin, respondents still look to healthcare professionals, pharmacists, and family members as the most reliable information sources regarding health issues. However, nearly one third of respondents ages 18-29 said that mobile health apps are reliable, compared with less than one quarter of older respondents. While the internet is still a very trusted source, Zach Reed Smith, a strategist at the mobile app development company Bandwdth, suggests that a transition from internet information to app content is coming. He says, "Because the App Store functions as a walled garden of content, users are more apt to trust the information in an app than in a web forum or the results of a Google search." Just as the internet has overtaken other information sources, such as word-of-mouth or book research, apps are positioned to gain increased reliability.

Medical apps that go one step beyond providing information, into diagnosing or treating medical conditions, will have to overcome a second barrier to demonstrate their reliability.  Regulatory agencies are drafting or introducing guidance on this type of app to minimize the potential for errors and subsequent liability risks to people’s health.  For this reason, many such medical apps are being considered or regulated as “medical devices”.

Download rate and frequency of use

Fitness apps most popular, weight management apps more common among females

Less than half of all respondents indicated that they have downloaded any type of health or fitness app. Still, the on-going allegiance to smartphones, and subsequently apps, is increasing. General fitness apps, such as MapMyRun or NikeFuel have the broadest user base among our analyst respondents; over one quarter of women and one fifth of men have downloaded such apps. These apps are most used in the US and Canada, where one-third have downloaded such apps, versus less than one quarter of respondents elsewhere. Furthermore, women across all regions are more than twice as likely as men to download weight management apps, such as Weight Watchers and Calorie Counter.

Downloaded Health and Fitness Mobile Apps—By Gender

Downloaded health and fitness mobile apps - by gender

Source: Euromonitor International Analyst Survey—Analyst Pulse; January 2013

Note: Showing percentage of respondents who have ever downloaded the following types of health and fitness apps

Emerging market respondents more likely to have apps, but developed markets use them daily

Of the 25% of respondents who indicated that they have downloaded a fitness app, less than 6% report using these apps every day. Instead, respondents are split in their usage—one quarter use their apps frequently while another quarter only use them occasionally. Usage also varies among respondents in emerging and developed markets. Developed market respondents are more likely to use fitness apps daily or occasionally; meanwhile, emerging markets respondents are nearly three times as likely to use these apps frequently—which means not daily, but on a recurring and regular basis.  While cultural trends suggest that users will become more and more reliant upon mobile health and fitness apps, at this point, the adoption rate is still fairly low and regular usage is even lower compared to, say, mobile games such as Bejeweled.

Fitness App Usage Frequency - Emerging vs. Developed 

ScreenHunter_40 Aug. 29 10.40


Source: Euromonitor International Analyst Survey—Analyst Pulse; January 2013

Note: Showing percentage of respondents in each type of market who use fitness apps with that frequency


From weight loss to medical questions, there is a growing range of health and fitness apps available for smartphones. However, it seems that consumers are more likely to download and test apps than to use them with regularity. Smith notes, "What we've found is that the download rate of mobile health and fitness apps is high, but so too is the un-install rate. They are sort of like New Year’s resolutions in this way."  Because apps feel temporary, companies should concentrate on capitalizing on weak willpower and maintaining users, perhaps through a game or a rewards system. Since app companies make profits through full-version paid apps and advertising, the question of how to gain (and keep) dedicated users is pressing.

Introduction to Analyst Pulse Survey

In 2011, Euromonitor International began designing, executing and analysing its own surveys in order to expand its trusted global research. This is part of a series of articles presenting the results of its Analyst Pulse surveys.

In Analyst Pulse surveys, Passport Survey reaches out to Euromonitor’s network of in-country analysts and in-house researchers around the world in order to find out more about current consumer attitudes and habits on a wide variety of topics, from economic outlook to daily activities. The Survey team collaborates with Euromonitor industry managers to identify topics and design questions. In August 2012, 247 researchers answered questions about the perceptions and habits of their countrymen with regard to luxury brands and purchase trends; these questions were created in partnership with the Luxury Goods team.

More on the sample: Our global analyst network

Analyst Pulse survey results differ from other survey data cited on Passport Survey (eg, findings from the Annual Survey or Global Youth) and should be interpreted with some caution. Analyst Pulse responses reflect the opinions and habits of several hundred of Euromonitor International’s in-country analysts and in-house researchers around the world. As such, results reflect a great degree of geographic, economic, and cultural diversity among educated consumers.

On the other hand, Euromonitor International’s researchers do not constitute a random sample of consumers in a given country or across the globe, so their responses do not necessarily represent the opinions of a broader population of consumers. Passport Survey presents their attitudes and behaviours in order to provide starting points for potential further investigations and sparks of tactical insight.

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