Background: Electronic health (eHealth) and mobile health (mHealth) approaches to address low physical activity levels, sedentary behavior, and unhealthy diets have received significant research attention. However, attempts to systematically map the entirety of the research field are lacking. This gap can be filled with a bibliometric study, where publication-specific data such as citations, journals, authors, and keywords are used to provide a systematic overview of a specific field. Such analyses will help researchers better position their work.
Objective: The objective of this review was to use bibliometric data to provide an overview of the eHealth and mHealth research field related to physical activity, sedentary behavior, and diet.
Methods: The Web of Science (WoS) Core Collection was searched to retrieve all existing and highly cited (as defined by WoS) physical activity, sedentary behavior, and diet related eHealth and mHealth research papers published in English between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2016. Retrieved titles were screened for eligibility, using the abstract and full-text where needed. We described publication trends over time, which included journals, authors, and countries of eligible papers, as well as their keywords and subject categories. Citations of eligible papers were compared with those expected based on published data. Additionally, we described highly-cited papers of the field (ie, top ranked 1%).
Results: The search identified 4805 hits, of which 1712 (including 42 highly-cited papers) were included in the analyses. Publication output increased on an average of 26% per year since 2000, with 49.00% (839/1712) of papers being published between 2014 and 2016. Overall and throughout the years, eHealth and mHealth papers related to physical activity, sedentary behavior, and diet received more citations than expected compared with papers in the same WoS subject categories. The Journal of Medical Internet Research published most papers in the field (9.58%, 164/1712). Most papers originated from high-income countries (96.90%, 1659/1717), in particular the United States (48.83%, 836/1712). Most papers were trials and studied physical activity. Beginning in 2013, research on Generation 2 technologies (eg, smartphones, wearables) sharply increased, while research on Generation 1 (eg, text messages) technologies increased at a reduced pace. Reviews accounted for 20 of the 42 highly-cited papers (n=19 systematic reviews). Social media, smartphone apps, and wearable activity trackers used to encourage physical activity, less sedentary behavior, and/or healthy eating were the focus of 14 highly-cited papers.
Conclusions: This study highlighted the rapid growth of the eHealth and mHealth physical activity, sedentary behavior, and diet research field, emphasized the sizeable contribution of research from high-income countries, and pointed to the increased research interest in Generation 2 technologies. It is expected that the field will grow and diversify further and that reviews and research on most recent technologies will continue to strongly impact the field.