Health apps reviewed

Can an app help you form healthy habits?

Person using a health app on a smartphone.

Whether it’s watching your weight or tracking your fitness, there’s an app for it. However, it’s not easy knowing which ones may work for you from the thousands available on app stores.

Before you download anything, it’s worth checking out reviews. However, not all feedback is created equal – for independent analysis by Kiwi experts, we recommend the Health Navigator Charitable Trust website.*

Each app listed on Health Navigator’s site is road-tested by a health expert who assesses whether it’s useful and highlights any safety concerns. The app then gets a star rating, with five stars being very good.

The bad news? Not many apps manage a top rating. We’ve picked out a selection that scored better than average.

*Health Navigator reviews are funded by the Ministry of Health.

Weight management

The Noom Health & Weight app gets a five-star rating from Health Navigator.

The app is designed to help you change your habits to maintain a healthy weight. When you install it, you’re asked questions about your weight, lifestyle, attitude to food and how often you exercise. You’re also asked what your goal is – whether it’s running 5k or just having a better diet. It then calculates an eating plan for you.

You also have access to a group “coach” who can help you make healthy choices and support your progress.

20mar best health apps calories

You can download the app for a 14-day trial but you have to pay after that. As soon as you sign up, you’re also shown “exclusive offers” on meals and workout plans. Don’t click on these straight away. See how the trial goes before opting for a subscription. A two-month subscription costs $157.

The Calorie Counter app gets a four-star rating from Health Navigator. It’s a self-monitoring tool for people who want to manage their weight. The app, as the name suggests, counts calories but can also monitor exercise by linking to your exercise tracker, such as a Fitbit or Google Fit.

While the basic app is free, there’s a premium upgrade available for $12.99 a month (or $74.99 for an annual subscription). The premium package offers meal plans created by a dietitian.

Calorie Counter’s database has some New Zealand brands. However, the reviewer thought the app wasn’t very intuitive to use. They also thought it would be best for people who already had some healthy eating knowledge, or for those using it with support from a dietitian or nutritionist.

Read the app reviews on the Health Navigator website

Noom Health & Weight
Calorie Counter

Mental health

Several apps for anxiety and depression get five-star ratings from Health Navigator.

Among them is the Sparx app, developed in New Zealand to help youth aged between 12 and 19 years.

The app’s approach is based on cognitive behavioural therapy (a type of talk therapy). The Health Navigator reviewer thought the app provided “great support through online chat and associated helpline”.

Thinkladder, another Kiwi app, is also based on cognitive behavioural therapy techniques.

Woman meditating while listening to phone.

You choose an area you want to improve such as self-worth. The app advises you on ways to help change your thinking. You can set the advice to repeat daily or weekly.

The reviewer thought Thinkladder could also provide insight into anxiety or depression if you’re supporting friends or family.

The Virtual Hope Box app also gets five stars. While it was developed in the US, the Health Navigator reviewer said the strategies it contained were commonly used by New Zealand-trained psychologists, making it relevant for a Kiwi audience.

The app has simple tools to help people with relaxation and positive thinking. For example, the app’s “Relax me” tool includes controlled breathing and relaxation techniques. With the “Coping” tool, you create “coping cards” to identify situations you struggle with and learn skills to help deal with them.

Read the app reviews on the Health Navigator website

Sparx
Thinkladder
Virtual Hope Box

Women’s health

Period-tracking app Flo Ovulation Calendar & Pregnancy gets a four-star rating from Health Navigator. The app can be used to monitor your menstrual cycle, PMS symptoms, fertility, as well as pregnancy.

While the app is free, it has add-on subscriptions if you want tailored health information. It costs $15.92 a month or $79.68 for an annual subscription.

The Positively Pregnant app, developed by Carrie Barber, a clinical psychologist at the University of Waikato, also gets a four-star rating. The app provides information about the changes to expect when you’re expecting and gives you strategies to cope with them.

The reviewer thought the app would be very useful for pregnant women, though noted the app design could be improved.

Read the app reviews on the Health Navigator website

Flo Ovulation Calendar & Pregnancy
Positively Pregnant

Quitting smoking

The US-developed QuitGuide is the only quit smoking app that gets five stars from Health Navigator.

With the app, you enter a quit date, record a personal message and reason for quitting. This message pops up every time you open the app.

You can also track your cravings and set up motivational messages for those times when you crave a smoke. It also has information about medication that can help you quit.

The Health Navigator reviewer thought the app was useful for anyone who had already tried to quit but wanted an extra hand.

If you want Kiwi-based advice to help you stop smoking, check out smokefree.org.nz.

Read the app review on the Health Navigator website

Quit Guide

Fitness apps

If you want a fitness app to help you make lasting lifestyle changes, consider:

  • Does it suit your level of fitness?

  • Will it let you set goals and adapt them?

  • Does it have illustrations or videos to show how an exercise is done?

  • If you like sharing your fitness goals with family and friends, does the app let you share your progress? Be aware, the social media giants are likely to use this data too.

  • How will the app help keep you motivated? Apps that reward your behaviour are more effective. It can be as simple as saying “well done” or placing you on a leader board.

If you’re after a fitness app, you can find reviews on the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (Vic Health) website. Each app is assessed by at least two public health experts. Reviews also consider whether using the app could change behaviour.

Woman using fitness app.

Like Health Navigator, Vic Health uses a five-star rating system. However, none of the fitness apps reviewed got more than 3.5 stars. While some are good to use, they’re not so great at creating healthy habits.

These apps were the best of the bunch, scoring three stars for behaviour change and 3.5 stars overall.

Home Workout – No Equipment

Summary: shows workouts you can do without expensive equipment; includes animations and videos showing you how to do exercises correctly.
Overall rating: 3.5/5
Cost: free 7-day trial, then $110.30 a year.
Read the app review on the Vic Health website

Kim Beach Life

Summary: offers weight and cardio workouts; also provides nutritional information.
Overall rating: 3.5/5
Cost: free 7-day trial, then subscriptions range from $47.25 (one month) to $268 (annual). Read the app review on the Vic Health website

My Fitness by Jillian Michaels

Summary: shows video demonstrations of exercises and allows you to tailor the app to your fitness level.
Overall rating: 3.5/5
Cost: free 7-day trial, then subscriptions range from $23.96 (one month) to $143.00 (annual).
Read the app review on the Vic Health website

Map My Fitness/Map My Ride/Map My Walk

Summary: use GPS to track your activities and note pace, distance, duration and calories burned.
Overall rating: 3.5/5
Cost: basic apps are free but you pay for premium features (from $9.45 monthly).

Read the app reviews on the Vic Health website

Map My Fitness
Map My Ride
Map My Walk

What happens to your data?

When you’re using a health app, you’re often providing sensitive personal information that may be shared with a range of other parties.

Of the 12 health apps we looked at, 11 either sell your data to advertisers, use third parties to analyse it, or both. And one app, Virtual Hope Box, didn’t appear to have a privacy policy.

The personal data collected about you can be used to target advertising as well as for practices such as price discrimination, where a customer is charged a higher price for a product based on information about their willingness to pay.

A recent investigation of 10 popular apps by the Norwegian Consumer Council found they sent data to at least 135 different third parties involved in advertising or behavioural profiling.

In its privacy policy, the period tracker app Flo says it shares data with a company called AppsFlyer, which in turn may share it with Pinterest, Google Ads, Apple Search Ads, or Facebook. So don’t be surprised if you start getting served up ads for baby products if your period is late.

Privacy law requires companies to tell customers what data they’re collecting and how it’s being used. However, this information is often vague and buried in lengthy privacy policies. If you don’t want your data shared, your only practical option is not using the app.

Tips to keep your data safe

  • Find out who you’re dealing with: who developed the app and what’s disclosed about how your data will be used?

  • Avoid signing up to apps using social media accounts. If the app is integrated with social media, it can collect information from your social media accounts and vice versa.

  • Think carefully about the information you’re providing when you use an app. Is it really necessary to disclose?

  • Review the advertising, permissions and privacy settings of any apps you do have.

  • Delete apps you don’t use.

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