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Crowdsourcing app can help users choose healthy foods

Posted By 2 Minute Medicine® On August 11, 2014 @ 3:29 pm In Healthy Eating | Comments Disabled

Created by Harvard Health Publishing based on content published by 2 Minute Medicine® (view original article)

People who want to follow a healthy diet sometimes need a little help knowing where a meal or snack falls on the healthfulness scale. Several apps let you snap a photo of what you’re about to eat and post it for all to see — and rate. And though many of the “raters” are regular folks without training in nutrition, a new study shows they do a pretty good job gauging whether foods are likely to make you fitter or fatter.

Researchers from South Carolina and Finland wanted to see how well the crowd stacked up against folks with trained to rate food. They turned to a mobile app called The Eatery. The researchers tallied up how 5,000 users of The Eatery ranked 450 photos of foods using predetermined nutrient labels such as saturated fat content, fruits, vegetables, and the like, as well as on a scale ranging from “fat” to “fit.” They also asked three trained reviewers to rank the foods using a scale based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The averages of the peer raters’ scores — the crowdsourcing — were closely in line with the averages of the experts’ scores. The report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

Another positive sign: Foods and beverages that should be part of a healthy diet, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts were associated with higher crowdsourced ratings while those that should be limited, like fast foods, pastries, red meat, cheese, desserts, and sugar-sweetened beverages had lower ratings.

The results of this study don’t mean we should let the crowd stand in for trained nutrition professionals. After all, it was just one study and it used a limited rating system that doesn’t allow for a comprehensive evaluation of the food. And there wasn’t any follow-up to evaluate whether users of The Eatery stuck with this approach to choosing healthier foods or how well it worked.

But the results should give you confidence that, if you use an app like this, you can have confidence in the ratings you get back from your fellow app users.

This study also helps establish crowdsourcing as an inexpensive way to help people choose healthy foods, and shows the positive effect of mobile-based technology to facilitate “in-the-moment” dietary management.

Related Information: Healthy Eating: A guide to the new nutrition

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