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Choosing between responsive-design websites versus mobile apps for your mobile behavioral intervention: presenting four case studies


Both mobile apps and responsive-design websites (web apps) can be used to deliver mobile health (mHealth) interventions, but it can be difficult to discern which to use in research. The goal of this paper is to present four case studies from behavioral interventions that developed either a mobile app or a web app for research and present an information table to help researchers determine which mobile option would work best for them. Four behavioral intervention case studies (two developed a mobile app, and two developed a web app) presented include time, cost, and expertise. Considerations for adopting a mobile app or a web app—such as time, cost, access to programmers, data collection, security needs, and intervention components— are presented. Future studies will likely integrate both mobile app and web app modalities. The considerations presented here can help guide researchers on which platforms to choose prior to starting an mHealth intervention.

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Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gabrielle M. Turner-McGrievy PhD, MS, RD.

Ethics declarations

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

All the studies presented in this paper were approved by the appropriate institutional review board.


This study was funded by the following entitites: the South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute with an academic home at the Medical University of South Carolina CTSA NIH/NCATS grant number UL1TR000062 (PI: Turner-McGrievy); a University of South Carolina Advanced Support for Innovative Research Excellence—II grant (PI: Turner-McGrievy); NIH grant numbers 1R01GM081793 and P20 RR-016461 (PI: Valafar); the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases under award number R44DK103377 (PIs: Wirth, Shivappa and Hébert); a Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity (SPARC) grant from the University of South Carolina’s Office of the Vice President for Research (PI: Schoffman); and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes under award number 1R01HL112787 (PI: Beets). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. James R. Hébert is the owner and Drs. Michael Wirth and Nitin Shivappa are employees of Connecting Health Innovations (CHI), LLC, a company planning to license the right to the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII) from the University of South Carolina to develop computer and smartphone applications for patient counseling and dietary intervention in clinical settings.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

The findings reported have not been previously published and that the manuscript is not being simultaneously submitted elsewhere.

Any previously reported data from the projects described in these case studies have been cited.

The authors have had full control of all primary data and that they agree to allow the journal to review their data if requested.

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information


Practice: Practitioners can apply the described lessons learned to select a mobile platform that can be used to disseminate information to patients and consumers.

Policy: Potential funders of mobile health intervention research or mobile public health programs should consider if a mobile app is always necessary for delivering content or if a web app could potentially provide the same functions at a lower cost.

Research: Researchers should consider the several factors outlined here (e.g., cost, security, targeted population, time available, and expertise of team members) when deciding between using a mobile app or web app for delivering a mobile behavioral intervention.

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Turner-McGrievy, G.M., Hales, S.B., Schoffman, D.E. et al. Choosing between responsive-design websites versus mobile apps for your mobile behavioral intervention: presenting four case studies. Behav. Med. Pract. Policy Res. 7, 224–232 (2017).

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  • mHealth
  • Interventions
  • Mobile apps
  • Websites
  • Study design
  • Health behavior