Engagement with and Acceptability of Digital Media Platforms for Use in Improving Health Behaviors among Vulnerable Families: Systematic Review

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Background: The use of digital communication platforms to improve health behaviors has increased dramatically over the last decade. Public health practitioners have adopted digital communication technologies such as text messages, mobile apps, and social media to reach diverse populations. However, the effectiveness of digital communication platforms used by community-serving agencies remains unclear, and patterns of engagement and acceptability of different platforms have not been studied. Objective: This review aimed to identify the types of digital communication strategies used by community-serving organizations to promote healthy behaviors, assess the strength of evidence for health behavioral change, and describe the degree of consumer engagement with and acceptability of these strategies. The study population included low-income pregnant women, parents of young children, and adolescents. Methods: A systematic review was conducted according to the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines using PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, CINAHL, and APA PsycInfo, covering research conducted from 2009 to 2022. Studies were included if they examined the use of digital communication (ie, texting, mobile apps, or social media) to promote healthy behaviors in the target population. Risk of bias and strength of evidence were assessed using the Effective Public Health Practice Project Risk of Bias tool and criteria from Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, respectively. Results: Twenty-three peer-reviewed research studies published between 2012 and 2022, conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, were included in the review. The sample comprised studies exploring the use of texting (n=12), apps (n=6), social media (n=3), and multiple platforms (n=2; eg, texting and mobile apps). Targeted health behaviors included healthy diet, physical activity, obesity prevention, healthy pregnancy, breastfeeding, vaccine use, smoking cessation, and nutrition benefit redemption. The sample included 8 randomized controlled trials, 6 pretest-posttest design, 3 mixed methods studies, 2 pilot studies, 1 feasibility study, 1 prospective cohort study, 1 descriptive study, and 1 cross-sectional study. The median sample size was 77.5. There was no strong evidence to suggest the effectiveness of digital media campaigns in improving health behaviors; however, there were moderate to high levels of engagement and high levels of acceptability across digital platforms. Conclusions: Low-income pregnant women, parents of young children, and adolescents demonstrated moderate levels of engagement with and high levels of acceptability of digital media health campaigns conducted by community-serving agencies. The effectiveness of these strategies in improving health behaviors was inconclusive. Additional rigorous studies with larger sample sizes are required. In addition, more research is required to consistently measure and report participants’ engagement with each platform. Digital communication platforms are critical tools for public health practitioners, and future investigations of the effectiveness of these platforms in engaging clients and improving health behaviors will maximize client services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere40934
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
StatePublished - 2023


  • breastfeeding
  • community
  • engagement
  • health promotion
  • low-income
  • maternal and child health
  • mobile app
  • mobile phone
  • nutrition and physical activity
  • pregnancy
  • social media
  • text messaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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