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58% of Americans have downloaded a health app, but almost half don’t use them anymore

Over 40,000 health apps are currently available in the US, most of which are used by the under-40s

There's no short of health apps out there. They can record our sleep, measure our fitness, and count our calories. But what do their users think of them and are all of them really used? A US survey investigated.

This national survey, conducted in June 2015 by researchers at the NYU Langone Medical Center in the US, sought to evaluate the usefulness of mobile health apps, which are mainly downloaded by young adults.

The survey is considered to be one of the comprehensive on health app use. The respondents were American smartphone owners with an average age of 40. They had to answer 36 questions online about their use of health apps, their state of health, and provide other personal data.

The findings, which were published on November 3 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research mHealth and uHealth, give a rather mixed picture.

There are currently around 40,000 health and well-being apps in the marketplace in the US. Fifty-three percent of them track physical activity, 48% relate to food consumption, 47% monitor weight loss and 34% give exercise instructions.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they had already downloaded a health app, and 42% had downloaded 5 or more. Sixty-five percent used them daily. Those most likely to use the apps were younger, more educated, had a higher income, were of Hispanic ethnicity, or obese, noted the researchers.

Nearly 65% of respondents said that the apps improved their health. The team also noted that a majority of those questioned believed strongly that the apps they used were effective and accurate.

However, 46% said they had downloaded an app that they no longer used. The researchers said barriers to more widespread use of the apps included cost, disinterest over time and privacy concerns.

Forty-one percent of the respondents said they would never be prepared to pay for a health app. The team also said that lack of interest was mentioned as a factor in many cases. Furthermore, the amount of information that had to be entered to operate the app put off most of those surveyed.

"Smartphone applications have tremendous potential to help market healthy lifestyle habits to people who may be harder to reach in other ways, especially minorities, and those with lower incomes and serious health problems," says Dustin Duncan, the study's co-author.

Nevertheless, he believes that a lot remains to be done in terms of testing and proving their health benefits and making sure that the data entered is secure. The authors concluded that the challenge is to continue to attract user interest in a crowded market, while attempting to target those who do not use them but would benefit from doing so.