Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Few Evidence-Based Features of Dietary Interventions Included in Photo Diet Tracking Mobile Apps for Weight Loss

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Abstract

Background:

Apps using digital photos to track dietary intake and provide feedback are common, but currently there has been no research examining what evidence-based strategies are included in these apps.

Methods:

A content analysis of mobile apps for photo diet tracking was conducted, including whether effective techniques for interventions promoting behavior change, including self-regulation, for healthy eating (HE) are targeted. An initial search of app stores yielded 34 apps (n = 8 Android and Apple; n = 11 Android; n = 15 Apple). One app was removed (unable to download), and other apps (n = 4) were unable to be rated (no longer available). Remaining apps (n = 29) were downloaded, reviewed, and coded by 2 independent reviewers to determine the number of known effective self-regulation and other behavior change techniques included. The raters met to compare their coding of the apps, calculate interrater agreement, resolve any discrepancies, and come to a consensus.

Results:

Six apps (21%) did not utilize any of the behavior change techniques examined. Three apps (10%) provided feedback to users via crowdsourcing or collective feedback from other users and professionals, 7 apps (24%) used crowdsourcing or collective feedback, 1 app (3%) used professionals, and 18 apps (62%) did not provide any dietary feedback to users.

Conclusion:

Few photo diet-tracking apps include evidence-based strategies to improve dietary intake. Use of photos to self-monitor dietary intake and receive feedback has the potential to reduce user burden for self-monitoring, yet photo diet tracking apps need to incorporate known effective behavior strategies for HE, including self-regulation.

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