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Crowdsource Your Eating to Enhance Self-Monitoring

It’s interesting to think that in a world where crowdsourcing didn’t formally exist in the vernacular less than a decade ago, we are applying the practice these days to keep tabs on our eating, among other things.

Crowdsourcing is the act of delegating a task to a large, diffuse group, usually for little or no monetary compensation. (The term was coined in 2006 by Wired magazine writer Jeff Howe.) Researchers wanted to study whether crowdsourcing dietary ratings for food photographs—by using a food app called Eatery—could assist with dietary self-monitoring. Eatery is a mobile app that allows users to snap a photo of their food, rate its healthiness and anonymously post the picture on a database for others to rate as well.

Published recently in the Journal of American Medical Informatics (doi:10.1136/amiajnl-2014-002636), the study findings indicated that crowdsourcing indeed holds the potential to provide basic feedback on overall diet quality to users through a “low-burden approach.”

Researchers assessed how closely crowdsourced feedback of foods and beverages in 450 pictures from Eatery came to ratings done by trained observers. Raters were shown photos and descriptions in the same manner an Eatery user would view them, but trained raters provided “healthiness” scores using criteria from the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Researchers concluded that “when basic feedback on diet quality by peer raters is crowdsourced, it is comparable to feedback from expert raters, and that peers rate both healthy and unhealthy foods in the expected direction.”

The take-home message? Self-monitoring can be a very helpful tool in weight management and diet accountability. Eatery, as well as other food-tracking tools, can greatly assist those who struggle with food decisions and who benefit from community support. Sustainability is a key driver to success when using such apps.

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