How reliable are nutrition related mobile apps?
Public Health Nutrition Editorial Highlight: ‘Evaluation of mobile applications related to nutrition’ Authors: Vitória Negri Braz and Maria Helena Baena de Moraes Lopes discuss their research below.
Nowadays, several people use mobile applications that serve a variety of purposes. There are several nutrition-related applications, which have as the main objective: “providing feedback, goal-setting for healthy eating, healthy cooking, self-monitoring of energy and nutrient intake, weight tracking, social planning and change” and the choice of places to eat. However, in order for nutritional applications to be effective, it is necessary that the database is correct.
The studies in this area are scarce, so this work was done with the objective of verifying the reliability of information, the sources of information used, and user opinion of the free mobile applications with nutritional information.
It is about a descriptive, cross-sectional study, where we evaluated apps on nutrition found in the App Store of iPhone 5S with software iOS 8.4.1 and on the Play Store for the Android platform, version 2.3.6, from August to November 2015. The following variables were evaluated in the applications: the goal of the application; reliability of information on food composition; reliability of information about food energy value; calculation of body mass index (BMI); consulted sources; and user opinion.
We evaluated sixteen apps for mobile devices and we found that the mobile apps evaluated aimed mainly at monitoring the diet and physical exercise performed by users. Besides, we verified that 37.5% of apps calculated user BMI and that 62.5% of apps did not mention the source of food composition information. The reliability of information on food energy value varied greatly between the apps, which the higher percentage of correct information was 57.1%.
In conclusion, the mobile apps for nutrition currently available in Brazil and evaluated in the current study are not useful for nutritional guidance because most of them are not based on reliable sources of information. On the other hand, we consider that trustworthy apps could be used if health-care professionals trained for this purpose orient the user. Beyond that, more trials are necessary, including more apps and user populations, and more analyses of use to know what apps could be good for health care and to help lifestyle change.
The full article published in Public Health Nutrition,‘Evaluation of mobile applications related to nutrition’, is freely available until 3 October 2018