Tech and Nutrition—Empowering Individuals to Make Data-Driven and Personalized Healthy Food Choices

By Emily Leung

Amidst the growing interests at the intersection of technology, nutrition, and health, a multitude of apps such as MyFitnessPal and Fooducate have inundated the market by helping users shop for healthier foods, log their food intake and physical activity, and track their calories. However, a limitation of these apps is that input is largely based on self-reported food intake data, which is often inaccurate. In a 2013 study by Archer et al., they found that individuals often misremember or even deliberately misrepresent their diets; men and women underreported energy intake by 12-14% and 16-20% respectively.

A promising innovation, the Smart Plate acts as a personal dietician and health advocate to users by providing personalized lifestyle and behavioral recommendations based on accurate food intake data. Smart Plate, developed by Fitly, has load sensors that can measure the exact weight of food and three digital cameras that can identify food with up to 99% accuracy. Data is automatically sent for analysis and subsequently provides nutrition “nudges,” such as advising the user to switch from white to brown rice or telling the user to take a specific amount of food off the plate. Furthermore, the plate and app can be customized to users’ athletic, nutrition and health goals; for example, the app can make specific recommendations for controlling diabetes or refueling correctly after a marathon training session. Essentially, Smart Plate removes some of the environmental barriers to healthy eating by providing constant guidance and giving better advice based on accurate data.

Fitly Kitckstater v4-HD from Fitly on Vimeo.

One exciting contribution innovations like this one can offer is accurate food intake data. Currently, self-reported diet data is often used for national nutrition policy research to track added sugars and salt, nutritional safety and consumption patterns. With the increase of obesity prevalence and a growing focus on prevention science, it is even more imperative that nutrition policies and investments in interventions and research be based on precise data.

Innovations like Smart Plate are examples of an initial foray into data-driven healthy design and technologically-connected home environments to empower users to lead healthier and more nutritionally informed lives. To date, the idea of a “smart home” has mainly focused on automatic lighting and heating, or specific applications for healthy aging.  As interest in using technology to improve health outcomes increases, as evidenced by Fitbit’s successful IPO debut, it will be interesting to see how technology, data, nutrition and behavioral economics, can continue to promote prevention science and overall well-being at both individual and environmental levels.

Do you use technology to track your food intake? Are you interested in using a technology like Smart Plate that can provide personalized and data-driven “nudges” and recommendations?  We would love to hear from you! Tweet at the Vitality Institute @VitalityInst or Emily Leung @emilyleung88

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