According to a study, gamification is currently the popular trend for mobile fitness app makers looking to cash into helping people get fit.

"It has just been assumed that gamified apps will work but there has been no research to show that they are effective for people in the long term," said Cameron Lister from Utah-based Brigham Young University.

Lister and health science professor Josh West analyzed over 2,000 health and fitness apps and found that the majority of the most popular and widely used apps feature gamification.

As part of their study, the duo also downloaded and used 132 of the apps personally to see how well they worked.

They found that gamification is ignoring key elements of behaviour change and could be demotivating in the long run.

For example, over time people can view the rewards and badges on these apps as work instead of play. Once the rewards disappear, the motivation drops.

One suggestion is for the apps to also focus on skill development. "There is a missed opportunity to influence healthy behaviour because most gamified health apps are only aimed at motivation," West added.

Motivation is important but people also need to develop skills that make behaviour change easy to do.

"It is like people assuming that you hate health and you hate taking care of your body so they offer to give you some stuff in order for you to do what they want you to do," Lister noted.

The paper appeared in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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