Background: Rapid developments in technology have encouraged the use of smartphones in health promotion research and practice. Although many applications (apps) relating to diet and nutrition are available from major smartphone platforms, relatively few have been tested in research studies in order to determine their effectiveness in promoting health.
Methods: In this article, we summarize data on the use of smartphone applications for promoting healthy diet and nutrition based upon bibliographic searches in PubMed and CINAHL with relevant search terms pertaining to diet, nutrition, and weight loss through August 2015.
Results: A total of 193 articles were identified in the bibliographic searches. By screening abstracts or full-text articles, a total of three relevant qualitative studies and 9 randomized controlled trials were identified. In qualitative studies, participants preferred applications that were quick and easy to administer, and those that increase awareness of food intake and weight management. In randomized trials, the use of smartphone apps was associated with better dietary compliance for lower calorie, low fat, and high fiber foods, and higher physical activity levels (p=0.01-0.02) which resulted in more weight loss (p=0.042-<0.0001).
Discussion: Future studies should utilize randomized controlled trial research designs, larger sample sizes, and longer study periods to better establish the diet and nutrition intervention capabilities of smartphones. There is a need for culturally appropriate, tailored health messages to increase knowledge and awareness of health behaviors such as healthy eating. Smartphone apps are likely to be a useful and low-cost intervention for improving diet and nutrition and addressing obesity in the general population. Participants prefer applications that are quick and easy to administer and those that increase awareness of food intake and weight management.
Keywords: Accuracy; Cell Phones; Diet; Nutrition; Obesity; Randomized Controlled Trials; Smartphone Applications; Weight Loss.