One in five fertility and menstrual tracking apps contain serious errors that could misinform users about their chances of getting pregnant, a Canadian study suggests.
Toronto researchers reviewed 140 iPhone apps and rated each with a score out of 100 based on the accuracy, usability and breadth of the tools and information available.
The study was published online in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada last month.
Lead author Rhonda Zwingerman said the quality of apps varied widely, but was low overall with an average score of 32.5 per cent.
While most apps were better than traditional pen-and-paper period planning, users should be wary of relying on their smartphone when making decisions about their reproductive health, she said.
“If the apps are telling you the wrong time to try, you could actually be harming your chances of getting pregnant,” said Zwingerman, a physician at Mount Sinai Fertility.
“The flip side of that is for people who are relying on this even in part for contraception, they could risk an unintended pregnancy.”
Researchers gave 31 apps a failing score of zero because they contained inaccuracies that could potentially harm users.
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Many apps made unfounded scientific claims, including false guarantees about their efficacy as contraceptive tools, said Zwingerman.
At least 15 of the apps had “gender prediction” features suggesting that factors such as having intercourse on certain days could influence a baby’s sex.
“Some just had content that was untrue (like), ‘If you eat this food, you’ll get pregnant,’” said Zwingerman. “There was some stuff ... about aligning your cycle with a moon phase that also felt very inaccurate and misleading.”
The majority of apps appeared to be backed by developers and tech companies rather than health-care professionals, according to the study.
Zwingerman said most menstrual tracking apps use overly simplistic predictions, which could give users a false sense of ease when they need to see a doctor.
Only 18 per cent of the apps contained a feature related to infertility or fertility treatment, the study suggests.
Zwingerman said this lack of information could reinforce misconceptions that place the burden of getting pregnant solely on the woman when there could be a variety of factors at play.
“I think really what we need is better health literacy around reproductive health, because then people would be able to look at these apps and tell for themselves which ones are more legitimate than others.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2020.