Popular Nutrition-Related Mobile Apps : A Feature Assessment
Franco, Rodrigo Zenun
Lovegrove, Julie A
BACKGROUND: A key challenge in human nutrition is the assessment of usual food intake. This is of particular interest given recent proposals of eHealth personalized interventions. The adoption of mobile phones has created an opportunity for assessing and improving nutrient intake as they can be used for digitalizing dietary assessments and providing feedback. In the last few years, hundreds of nutrition-related mobile apps have been launched and installed by millions of users. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to analyze the main features of the most popular nutrition apps and to compare their strategies and technologies for dietary assessment and user feedback. METHODS: Apps were selected from the two largest online stores of the most popular mobile operating systems-the Google Play Store for Android and the iTunes App Store for iOS-based on popularity as measured by the number of installs and reviews. The keywords used in the search were as follows: calorie(s), diet, diet tracker, dietician, dietitian, eating, fit, fitness, food, food diary, food tracker, health, lose weight, nutrition, nutritionist, weight, weight loss, weight management, weight watcher, and ww calculator. The inclusion criteria were as follows: English language, minimum number of installs (1 million for Google Play Store) or reviews (7500 for iTunes App Store), relation to nutrition (ie, diet monitoring or recommendation), and independence from any device (eg, wearable) or subscription. RESULTS: A total of 13 apps were classified as popular for inclusion in the analysis. Nine apps offered prospective recording of food intake using a food diary feature. Food selection was available via text search or barcode scanner technologies. Portion size selection was only textual (ie, without images or icons). All nine of these apps were also capable of collecting physical activity (PA) information using self-report, the global positioning system (GPS), or wearable integrations. Their outputs focused predominantly on energy balance between dietary intake and PA. None of these nine apps offered features directly related to diet plans and motivational coaching. In contrast, the remaining four of the 13 apps focused on these opportunities, but without food diaries. One app-FatSecret-also had an innovative feature for connecting users with health professionals, and another-S Health-provided a nutrient balance score. CONCLUSIONS: The high number of installs indicates that there is a clear interest and opportunity for diet monitoring and recommendation using mobile apps. All the apps collecting dietary intake used the same nutrition assessment method (ie, food diary record) and technologies for data input (ie, text search and barcode scanner). Emerging technologies, such as image recognition, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence, were not identified. None of the apps had a decision engine capable of providing personalized diet advice.