MINISTOP 2.0 : a smartphone app integrated in primary child health care to promote healthy diet and physical activity behaviors and prevent obesity in preschool-aged children

Abstract: BackgroundChildhood overweight and obesity is currently estimated to affect 39 million children under the age of five worldwide. After the COVID-19 pandemic, further increases have been observed in several countries including Sweden, where an increased incidence was observed in 3- and 4-year-old children, especially in disadvantaged areas. This development emphasizes the urgent need for population-based childhood obesity prevention interventions, and Swedish primary child health care provides an ideal setting for primary preventive efforts during the preschool years. However, thus far, previous child health care-based obesity prevention interventions have demonstrated limited effectiveness. As previous interventions also have been face-to-face delivered and thus resource-demanding; new, and scalable ways of delivering interventions also need to be evaluated. Mobile health or mHealth refers to the use of mobile devices for medical and public health practice and provides opportunity for development and dissemination of digital interventions for various purposes and populations at scale. This thesis reports the results of the MINISTOP 2.0 project, which covers the development and evaluation of the MINISTOP 2.0 digital intervention, from adaptation and translation of the intervention to Somali, Arabic and English (Paper I), to evaluation of real-world effectiveness within the Swedish primary child health care setting (Paper II) followed by exploration of user experiences and implementation aspects (Paper III) and a cost-consequence analysis of the intervention costs (Paper IV).  AimThe overall aim of this thesis was to evaluate whether a 6-month parent-oriented mHealth intervention (MINISTOP 2.0 app), embedded in the routine services of Swedish primary child health care, can be used to improve diet and physical activity behaviors, and decrease the prevalence of over-weight and obesity in 2.5-to-3-year-old children.   MethodsThe MINISTOP 2.0 project utilized a hybrid type 1 effectiveness-implementation study design to enable simultaneous evaluation and exploration of intervention effectiveness, user experiences and implementation aspects. Paper I: A qualitative exploration of user requirements in an app-based parental support intervention was conducted through three focus group interviews with Somali- (n = 5), Arabic- (n = 4), and Swedish-speaking parents (n = 6), and individual interviews with child health care nurses (n = 15). Data was analyzed using thematic analysis.  Paper II: A two-arm parallel randomized controlled trial was conducted at 19 child health care centers located in six Swedish regions. Participating parents (n = 552) were invited during their routine visit at 2.5/3-years at their primary child health care center. All baseline and follow-up procedures were conducted by the nurses. Parents that were randomized to the control group received standard care, while the intervention group received access to the MINISTOP 2.0 app for six months, alongside standard care. Prior to randomization, nurses measured the child’s height and weight for assessment of BMI, and parents answered a questionnaire about their child’s intake of fruit and vegetables, sweet and savory treats, and sweet drinks; time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and screen time; and parental self-efficacy (PSE) for promoting healthy diet, physical activity, and screen time behaviors. These baseline procedures were then repeated at a 6-month follow-up visit to the child health care center.   Paper III: A qualitative exploration of user experiences, acceptability, and feasibility of the MINISTOP 2.0 intervention was conducted through individual interviews with parents (n = 24) with diverse backgrounds, and with child health care nurses (n = 15). Data was analyzed using content analysis. Paper IV: Data on all costs related to the MINISTOP 2.0 intervention, including costs for app and interface upkeep as well as salary costs for introduction and dissemination of the app by nurses, was collected retrospectively. A cost-consequence analysis was then performed to estimate the costs of the intervention.  ResultsPaper I: Parents expressed several challenges related to promoting healthy eating behaviors, such as worrying about their child not eating enough, and difficulties balancing different food cultures. There were also requests for the app content to be accessible through alternative modes of delivery (e.g., audio/video) for parents with low literacy. Nurses underlined the importance of supporting parents early with health behavior interventions, and the value of a shared digital platform, available in several languages, to facilitate communication with parents.  Paper II: Seventy-nine percent of the participating parents (n = 552) were mothers and 62% had a university degree. Among the children, 24% had two foreign-born parents. Children in the intervention group had lower in-takes of sweet and savory treats (-6.97 g/day; p = 0.001), sweet drinks (-31.52 g/day; p < 0.001), and screen time (-7.00 min/day; p = 0.012) com-pared to the control group at follow-up. Parents in the intervention group also reported higher total PSE (0.91; p = 0.006), PSE for promoting healthy diet behaviors (0.34; p = 0.008) and PSE for promoting healthy physical activity behaviors (0.31; p = 0.009) compared to the control group. For children’s MVPA or BMI z-score, no statistically significant effect was observed between groups. Finally, parents also reported high satisfaction with the app, and 54% reported using the app once a week or more.  Paper III: Findings indicated that the app was well accepted and appreciated, as it increased knowledge and awareness around current health behaviors. Furthermore, evidence-based information available in one place and from a trusted source, was highly valued, especially when living in a country with a different culture than your own. The app was also acknowledged as a feasible support tool and a suitable complement to the standard care offered during visits. Finally, due to the accessibility in different languages and the possibility of disseminating the app at scale, both nurses and parents described the app as an appropriate tool for reaching larger populations of parents as well as parents in need of additional support. Paper IV: The total cost for the MINISTOP 2.0 intervention was 437 439 SEK based on the 277 families in the intervention group. The cost for child health care nurses introducing and registering families for the app represented only 9% of the total cost per family, which was considerably lower in comparison to other similar childhood obesity prevention interventions. Also, notably, for upscaling, sharing running costs for the user interface for larger populations of children, would result in much lower total costs per family.    ConclusionsOverall, qualitative findings for adapting the intervention highlighted the need for early access to information, as well as the importance of adapting interventions to also be accessible for parents with migrant background and parents with lower literacy. When disseminated through primary child health care, the MINISTOP 2.0 intervention resulted in statistically significant reduced intakes of sweet and savory treats, sweet drinks, and screen time in children (primary outcomes) as well as increased PSE for promoting healthy diet and activity behaviors (secondary outcome). The app was well accepted and perceived as a feasible support tool for parents. Furthermore, accessibility in different languages was also appreciated. Finally, the relatively low salary costs in comparison to face-to-face interventions suggest that the MINISTOP 2.0 app and caregiver interface may be an affordable preventive effort for early promotion of healthy lifestyle behaviors in children when scaled up on a population level. Altogether, the results from the papers in this thesis support the large-scale implementation of the MINISTOP 2.0 app within the Swedish primary child health care setting for promotion of healthy lifestyle behaviours in 2.5-to-3-year-old children. 

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