Digital health behavior change technology: Bibliometric and scoping review of two decades of research

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Background: Research on digital technology to change health behavior has increased enormously in recent decades. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of this topic, knowledge and technologies from different research areas are required. Up to now, it is not clear how the knowledge from those fields is combined in actual applications. A comprehensive analysis that systematically maps and explores the use of knowledge within this emerging interdisciplinary field is required. Objective: This study aims to provide an overview of the research area around the design and development of digital technologies for health behavior change and to explore trends and patterns. Methods: A bibliometric analysis is used to provide an overview of the field, and a scoping review is presented to identify the trends and possible gaps. The study is based on the publications related to persuasive technologies and health behavior change in the last 18 years, as indexed by the Web of Science and Scopus (317 and 314 articles, respectively). In the first part, regional and time-based publishing trends; research fields and keyword co-occurrence networks; influential journals; and collaboration network between influential authors, countries, and institutions are examined. In the second part, the behavioral domains, technological means and theoretical foundations are investigated via a scoping review. Results: The literature reviewed shows a clear and emerging trend after 2001 in technology-based behavior change, which grew exponentially after the introduction of the smartphone around 2009. Authors from the United States, Europe, and Australia have the highest number of publications in the field. The three most active research areas are computer science, public and occupational health, and psychology. The keyword "mhealth" was the dominant term and predominantly used together with the term "physical activity" and "ehealth". A total of three strong clusters of coauthors have been found. Nearly half of the total reported papers were published in three journals. The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands have the highest degree of author collaboration and a strong institutional network. Mobile phones were most often used as a technology platform, regardless of the targeted behavioral domain. Physical activity and healthy eating were the most frequently targeted behavioral domains. Most articles did not report about the behavior change techniques that were applied. Among the reported behavior change techniques, goal setting and self-management were the most frequently reported. Conclusions: Closer cooperation and interaction between behavioral sciences and technological areas is needed, so that theoretical knowledge and new technological advancements are better connected in actual applications. Eventually, this could result in a larger societal impact, an increase of the effectiveness of digital technologies for health behavioral change, and more insight in the relationship between behavioral change strategies and persuasive technologies' effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13311
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number12
Early online date13 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Behavior change support systems
  • Behavior change systems
  • Bibliometric analysis
  • Digital health behavior
  • Persuasive technology
  • Scoping review


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