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Mobile Applications, Health, and Built Environment: Considerations for developers

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The Healthy Community Design Initiative, also known as the Built Environment and Health Initiative, is no longer a funded program and the information on this website is not being reviewed and updated on a regular basis.


Many people use their mobile devices to help them keep track of their physical activity, including where the activity occurs. Some forms of physical activity, such as walking or bicycling, can also be the mode of transportation people use when they travel. Developers of mobile applications that provide information to users on physical activity and travel patterns could incorporate findings and practices from the fields of public health and transportation, potentially promoting better health and making their products more valuable to consumers and to other markets.

Mobile applications with a large market share and providers of central repositories that store data from a variety of devices and applications have the potential to aggregate population information. Data use would need to be consistent with applicable laws and users’ expectations. Some cities have already used aggregated data from these applications to help guide infrastructure planning. These aggregated data could be enhanced with information from public health and transportation sources, potentially improving knowledge about physical activity and the environmental factors that promote it.

Mobile application developers could consider:

  • Supplementing location information with users’ perception about the environment
  • Using algorithms and other mechanisms to differentiate among domains of physical activity (e.g., occupational, leisure, transportation)
  • Supplementing motion-based activity information by querying users about physical activity, including physical activity that might not be captured by the application (e.g., swimming)
  • Categorizing physical activity by intensity (i.e., light, moderate, and vigorous) and trips by purpose
  • Using the 2008 National Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans as a framework when reporting physical activity information to the user (

Developers and data repository providers might also consider:

  • Identifying frequently used routes or locations for walking, bicycling, and other physical activity
  • Detecting road segments that pedestrians and bicyclists avoid in favor of longer routes
  • Overlaying data from other sources, such as:
    • Crash site information to identify safety hazards and barriers to walking and bicycling
    • Locations of changes in the transportation environment (e.g., newly constructed trails, bike lanes, parks, and sidewalks) to potentially evaluate their impact on physical activity or injuries
    • Air pollution data to identify air quality in areas where people are physically active
    • Census information to identify areas where walking and bicycling to work is common
    • Socio-demographic information to assess differences in physical activity among groups, including disparities
  • Estimating travel behaviors for small and large geographic areas

Developers and data repository providers might consider partnering with public health, planning, transportation, or research organizations or a university in any potential efforts at enhancing, linking, and analyzing data from mobile applications on physical activity.