ImpulsePal: The systematic development of a smartphone app to manage food temptations using intervention mapping

Samantha B van Beurden, Colin J Greaves, Charles Abraham, Natalia S Lawrence, Jane R Smith

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Background: Impulsive processes driving eating behaviour can often undermine peoples' attempts to change their behaviour, lose weight and maintain weight loss.

Aim: To develop an impulse management intervention to support weight loss in adults.

Methods: Intervention Mapping (IM) was used to systematically develop the "ImpulsePal" intervention. The development involved: (1) a needs assessment including a qualitative study, Patient and Public advisory group and expert group consultations, and a systematic review of impulse management techniques; (2) specification of performance objectives, determinants, and change objectives; (3) selection of intervention strategies (mapping of change techniques to the determinants of change); (4) creation of programme materials; (5) specification of adoption and implementation plans; (6) devising an evaluation plan.

Results: Application of the IM Protocol resulted in a smartphone app that could support reductions in unhealthy (energy dense) food consumption, overeating, and alcoholic and sugary drink consumption. ImpulsePal includes inhibition training, mindfulness techniques, implementation intentions (if-then planning), visuospatial loading, use of physical activity for craving management, and context-specific reminders. An "Emergency Button" was also included to provide access to in-the-moment support when temptation is strong.

Conclusions: ImpulsePal is a novel, theory- and evidence-informed, person-centred app that aims to support impulse management for healthier eating. Intervention Mapping facilitated the incorporation of app components that are practical operationalisations of change techniques targeting our specific change objectives and their associated theoretical determinants. Using IM enabled transparency and provided a clear framework for evaluation, and enhances replicability and the potential of the intervention to accomplish the desired outcome of facilitating weight loss through dietary change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1–17
JournalDigital Health
Early online date25 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Nov 2021


  • Intervention mapping
  • weight loss
  • eHealth
  • mhealth
  • obesity
  • digital behaviour change intervention
  • implicit process
  • automatic process
  • dual-process


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