Translational Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 277–285 | Cite as

Characterizing user engagement with health app data: a data mining approach

  • Katrina J. SerranoEmail author
  • Kisha I. Coa
  • Mandi Yu
  • Dana L. Wolff-Hughes
  • Audie A. Atienza
Original Research


The use of mobile health applications (apps) especially in the area of lifestyle behaviors has increased, thus providing unprecedented opportunities to develop health programs that can engage people in real-time and in the real-world. Yet, relatively little is known about which factors relate to the engagement of commercially available apps for health behaviors. This exploratory study examined behavioral engagement with a weight loss app, Lose It! and characterized higher versus lower engaged groups. Cross-sectional, anonymized data from Lose It! were analyzed (n = 12,427,196). This dataset was randomly split into 24 subsamples and three were used for this study (total n = 1,011,008). Classification and regression tree methods were used to identify subgroups of user engagement with one subsample, and descriptive analyses were conducted to examine other group characteristics associated with engagement. Data mining validation methods were conducted with two separate subsamples. On average, users engaged with the app for 29 days. Six unique subgroups were identified, and engagement for each subgroup varied, ranging from 3.5 to 172 days. Highly engaged subgroups were primarily distinguished by the customization of diet and exercise. Those less engaged were distinguished by weigh-ins and the customization of diet. Results were replicated in further analyses. Commercially-developed apps can reach large segments of the population, and data from these apps can provide insights into important app features that may aid in user engagement. Getting users to engage with a mobile health app is critical to the success of apps and interventions that are focused on health behavior change.


Mobile health application Mobile health technology Smartphone app Data mining Big data User engagement Classification and regression tree 



The authors thank FitNow Inc., the makers of Lose It! for providing this anonymized dataset for analysis.

Compliance with ethical standards

Funding source

This work is a secondary data analysis and was not funded by a grant.

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human rights and welfare of animals

The Office of Human Subjects Research Protections at the National Institutes of Health has determined that federal regulations for the protection of human subjects do not apply to this research activity. No animals were used in this research study.

Informed consent

This work is a secondary data analysis of commercial application data, and data given were de-identified. No consent was needed.


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Copyright information

© Society of Behavioral Medicine (outside the US) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katrina J. Serrano
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kisha I. Coa
    • 2
  • Mandi Yu
    • 1
  • Dana L. Wolff-Hughes
    • 3
  • Audie A. Atienza
    • 2
  1. 1.National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of HealthRockvilleUSA
  2. 2.ICF InternationalRockvilleUSA
  3. 3.Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences ResearchNational Institutes of HealthBethesdaUSA

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