News - August 25, 2016

New app sees what’s on your plate

What have you eaten in the last 24 hours? That turns out to be a surprisingly difficult question. Did you have two or three slices of toast for breakfast? What time did you drink your last beer last night? And are you sure you haven’t overlooked a snack? Consumer researchers know you always get mistakes in answers to a 24-hour questionnaire. Now LEI Wageningen UR hopes to have found a more precise alternative: an app.


Image: Screenshot of the app FoodProfiler

This ‘FoodProfiler’ is designed to provide insight into our eating habits. The primary aim, however, is to compare the app with existing methods of data collection such as the 24-hour questionnaire. All the app users get several ‘push messages’ every day, asking them what they have eaten or drunk in the last two hours. They also answer questions about their background and ideas about food. The app is intended to provide an impression of someone’s consumption pattern over two to three weeks. After that the users get to see a profile sketch. Marleen Onwezen, a researcher at LEI Wageningen UR: ‘Then it becomes clear whether someone’s behaviour matches their self-image. Is their diet really as healthy as they think it is?’

In developing the app the researchers sought a balance between thorough data collection and making it enjoyable to use the app. ‘We didn’t want to make it too hard work for respondents or to influence them,’ says Onwezen. So you don’t get any feedback on your answers, because that could influence the results. But to keep users motivated, they are rewarded with interesting facts about nutrition. Users are not given an exact calorie count either. If they want that they have to fill in a much more detailed questionnaire as well as weighing their portions. Onwezen thinks this puts a lot of people off.

Onwezen hopes that about 100 people will download and fill in FoodProfiler every month in its first year. Once the app is over its teething troubles, the developers will start giving thought to its distribution.