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BACKGROUND: Physical activity smartphone apps are a promising strategy to increase population physical activity, but it is unclear whether government mass media campaigns to promote these apps would be a cost-effective use of public funds. OBJECTIVE: We aimed to estimate the health impacts, costs, and cost-effectiveness of a one-off national mass media campaign to promote the use of physical activity apps. METHODS: We used an established multistate life table model to estimate the lifetime health gains (in quality-adjusted life years [QALYs]) that would accrue if New Zealand adults were exposed to a one-off national mass media campaign to promote physical activity app use, with a 1-year impact on physical activity, compared to business-as-usual. A health-system perspective was used to assess cost-effectiveness. and a 3% discount rate was applied to future health gains and health system costs. RESULTS: The modeled intervention resulted in 28 QALYs (95% uncertainty interval [UI] 8-72) gained at a cost of NZ $81,000/QALY (2018 US $59,500; 95% UI 17,000-345,000), over the remaining life course of the 2011 New Zealand population. The intervention had a low probability (20%) of being cost-effective at a cost-effectiveness threshold of NZ $45,000 (US $32,900) per QALY. The health impact and cost-effectiveness of the intervention were highly sensitive to assumptions around the maintenance of physical activity behaviors beyond the duration of the intervention. CONCLUSIONS: A mass media campaign to promote smartphone apps for physical activity is unlikely to generate much health gain or be cost-effective at the population level. Other investments to promote physical activity, particularly those that result in sustained behavior change, are likely to have greater health impacts.

Original publication




Journal article


JMIR Mhealth Uhealth

Publication Date





mHealth, mass media campaigns, mobile health, modeling, physical activity, smartphone apps