Digital inequalities in the use of self-tracking diet and fitness apps: Interview study on the influence of social, economic, and cultural factors

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Background: Digital devices are driving economic and social transformations, but assessing the uses, perceptions, and impact of these new technologies on diet and physical activity remains a major societal challenge. Objective: We aimed to determine under which social, economic, and cultural conditions individuals in France were more likely to be actively invested in the use of self-tracking diet and fitness apps for better health behaviors. Methods: Existing users of 3 diet and fitness self-tracking apps (Weight Watchers, MyFitnessPal, and sport apps) were recruited from 3 regions of France. We interviewed 79 individuals (Weight Watchers, n=37; MyFitnessPal, n=20; sport apps, n=22). In-depth semistructured interviews were conducted with each participant, using open-ended questions about their use of diet and fitness apps. A triangulation of methods (content, textual, and quantitative analyses) was performed. Results: We found 3 clusters of interviewees who differed by social background and curative goal linked to use under constraint versus preventive goal linked to chosen use, and intensity of their self-quantification efforts and participation in social networks. Interviewees used the apps for a diversity of uses, including measurement, tracking, quantification, and participation in digital communities. A digital divide was highlighted, comprising a major social gap. Social conditions for appropriation of self-tracking devices included sociodemographic factors, life course stages, and cross-cutting factors of heterogeneity. Conclusions: Individuals from affluent or intermediate social milieus were most likely to use the apps and to participate in the associated online social networks. These interviewees also demonstrated a preventive approach to a healthy lifestyle. Individuals from lower milieus were more reluctant to use digital devices relating to diet and physical activity or to participate in self-quantification. The results of the study have major implications for public health: the digital self-quantification device is intrinsically less important than the way the individual uses it, in terms of adoption of successful health behaviors.




Régnier, F., & Chauvel, L. (2018). Digital inequalities in the use of self-tracking diet and fitness apps: Interview study on the influence of social, economic, and cultural factors. JMIR MHealth and UHealth, 6(4).

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