Background: Despite the growing body of research on complex lifestyle behaviors (eg, Dietary Intake [DI] and Physical Activity [PA]), monitoring of these behaviors has been hampered by a lack of suitable methods. A possible solution to this deficiency is mobile-based Ecological Momentary Assessment (mEMA), which enables researchers to collect data on participants' states in real-time by means of a smartphone application. However, feasibility, usability, and ecological validity need to be anticipated and managed in order to enhance the validity of mEMA.
Objective: To examine the feasibility, usability, and ecological validity of a mEMA application (app) with regard to DI and PA among Dutch vocational education students.
Methods: The students (n=30) participated in the mEMA study for seven consecutive days. They downloaded the mEMA app on their smartphone. Feasibility and usability of the mEMA app were evaluated by completing an online evaluation after seven days of participation. Ecological validity was measured by assessing the degree to which the content of the mEMA app approximated the real-world setting that was being examined, through several multiple-choice questions.
Results: Compliance rates, as registered by the mEMA app, declined 46% over a seven-day period, while self-reported compliance, as measured with an online evaluation questionnaire afterwards, indicated a smaller decrease in compliance (29%). The students evaluated the mEMA app as feasible and usable. Ecological validity analyses showed that all DI and almost all PA multiple-choice options were covered with the compound response categories.
Conclusions: The mEMA app offers the opportunity to assess complex health behaviors (eg, DI and PA) in real-time settings, in which specifically routinized behaviors are involved. However, the mEMA app faced several challenges that needed to be overcome in order to improve its validity. Overall, the present study showed that the mEMA app is a usable and ecologically valid tool to measure DI and PA behaviors among vocational education students, but compliance is still limited.
- Dietary intake
- Ecological validity
- Mobile-based ecological momentary assessment (mema)
- Physical activity