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Background: Physical inactivity is a risk factor for chronic noncommunicable diseases. Insufficient physical activity has become an important public health problem worldwide. As mobile apps have rapidly developed, physical activity apps have the potential to improve the level of physical activity among populations. Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the effect of physical activity apps on levels of physical activity among college students. Methods: A Web-based questionnaire was used to survey college students in Beijing from December 27, 2017, to January 5, 2018. According to a previous survey, 43% of college students using physical activity apps and 36% of those who never used such apps achieved the physical activity recommendations. In this study, the sample size was calculated to be 500. The questionnaire consisted of 5 parts: the use of physical activity apps, sports habits, social support, self-efficacy, and social demographic information. Structural equation modeling was used to test the relationships between the use of physical activity apps, self-efficacy, social support, and level of physical activity. Results: Of the 1245 participants, 384 college students (30.8%) used physical activity apps (in the past month). Of these 384 students, 191 (49.7%) gained new friends via the app. College students who were using physical activity apps had a higher level of physical activity and higher scores for social support and self-efficacy (P<.001) than those who did not use such apps. The use of physical activity apps significantly affected the mediating effect of physical activity level through social support (beta=.126; P<.001) and self-efficacy (beta=.294; P<.001). Gender played an important role in app use, self-efficacy, and physical activity in the mediation model: male users spent more time on physical activity and had higher self-efficacy scores (P<.001). Conclusions: This study focused on college students in Beijing and found that the use of physical activity apps is associated with higher physical activity levels among these students. This effect is mainly through the mediation effect of social support and self-efficacy, rather than the direct effect of physical activity apps. The use of physical activity apps is associated with a higher social support level and higher self-efficacy score. Furthermore, a high social support level and high self-efficacy score are associated with higher physical activity levels.

Original publication




Journal article


JMIR mHealth and uHealth

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