Research Alert

Background: Despite health behavioral change interventions targeting modifiable lifestyle factors underlying chronic diseases, dropouts and nonadherence of individuals have remained high. The rapid development of machine learning (ML) in recent years, alongside its ability to provide readily available personalized experience for users, holds much potential for success in health promotion and behavioral change interventions.

Objective: The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the existing research on ML applications and harness their potential in health promotion and behavioral change interventions.

Methods: A scoping review was conducted based on the 5-stage framework by Arksey and O’Malley and the PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses for Scoping Reviews) guidelines. A total of 9 databases (the Cochrane Library, CINAHL, Embase, Ovid, ProQuest, PsycInfo, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science) were searched from inception to February 2021, without limits on the dates and types of publications. Studies were included in the review if they had incorporated ML in any health promotion or behavioral change interventions, had studied at least one group of participants, and had been published in English. Publication-related information (author, year, aim, and findings), area of health promotion, user data analyzed, type of ML used, challenges encountered, and future research were extracted from each study.

Results: A total of 29 articles were included in this review. Three themes were generated, which are as follows: (1) enablers, which is the adoption of information technology for optimizing systemic operation; (2) challenges, which comprises the various hurdles and limitations presented in the articles; and (3) future directions, which explores prospective strategies in health promotion through ML.

Conclusions: The challenges pertained to not only the time- and resource-consuming nature of ML-based applications, but also the burden on users for data input and the degree of personalization. Future works may consider designs that correspondingly mitigate these challenges in areas that receive limited attention, such as smoking and mental health.

Journal Link: Journal of Medical Internet Research

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Journal of Medical Internet Research