BACKGROUND: Compared with national averages, rural Appalachians experience extremely elevated rates of premature morbidity and mortality. New opportunities, including approaches incorporating personal technology, may help improve lifestyles and overcome health inequities.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to gather perspectives on whether a healthy lifestyle intervention, specifically an app originally designed for urban users, may be feasible and acceptable to rural residents. In addition to a smartphone app, this program-Make Better Choices 2-consists of personalized health coaching, accelerometer use, and financial incentives.

METHODS: We convened 4 focus groups and 16 key informant interviews with diverse community stakeholders to assess perspectives on this novel, evidence-based diet and physical activity intervention. Participants were shown a slide presentation and asked open-ended follow-up questions. The focus group and key informant interview sessions were audiotaped, transcribed, and subjected to thematic analysis.

RESULTS: We identified 3 main themes regarding Appalachian residents' perspectives on this mobile health (mHealth) intervention: personal technology is feasible and desirable; challenges persist in implementing mHealth lifestyle interventions in Appalachian communities; and successful mHealth interventions should include personal connections, local coaches, and educational opportunities. Although viewed as feasible and acceptable overall, lack of healthy lifestyle awareness, habitual behavior, and financial constraints may challenge the success of mHealth lifestyle interventions in Appalachia. Finally, participants described several minor elements that require modification, including expanding the upper age inclusion, providing extra coaching on technology use, emphasizing personal and supportive connections, employing local coaches, and ensuring adequate educational content for the program.

CONCLUSIONS: Blending new technologies, health coaching, and other features is not only acceptable but may be essential to reach vulnerable rural residents.

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Published in JMIR Formative Research, v. 5, no. 2, 18853.

© Nancy Schoenberg, Madeline Dunfee, Hannah Yeager, Matthew Rutledge, Angela Pfammatter, Bonnie Spring

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Formative Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://formative.jmir.org, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

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This research was supported by the Institutional Development Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under grant number P30 GM127211 and by pilot funding provided by the Department of Behavioral Science, University of Kentucky.