Measuring diet in the 21st century: use of new technologies

Proc Nutr Soc. 2017 Aug;76(3):276-282. doi: 10.1017/S0029665116002883. Epub 2016 Dec 15.


The advent of the internet and smartphone technology has allowed dietary assessment to reach the 21st century! The variety of foods available on the supermarket shelf is now greater than ever before. New approaches to measuring diet may help to reduce measurement error and advance our understanding of nutritional determinants of disease. This advance provides the potential to capture detailed dietary data on large numbers of individuals without the need for costly and time-consuming manual nutrition coding. This aim of the present paper is to review the need for new technologies to measure diet with an overview of tools available. The three main areas will be addressed: (1) development of web-based tools to measure diet; (2) use of smartphone apps to self-monitor diet; (3) improving the quality of dietary assessment through development of an online library of tools. A practical example of the development of a web-based tool to assess diet myfood24 ( will be given exploring its potential, limitations and challenges. The development of a new food composition database using back-of-pack information will be described. Smartphone apps used to measure diet with a focus on obesity will be reviewed. Many apps are unreliable in terms of tracking, and most are not evaluated. Accurate and consistent measurement of diet is needed for public health and epidemiology. The choice of the most appropriate dietary assessment method tends to rely on experience. The DIET@NET partnership has developed best practice guidelines for selection of dietary assessment tools, which aim to improve the quality, consistency and comparability of dietary data. These developments provide us with a step-change in our ability to reliably characterise food and nutrient intake in population studies. The need for high-quality, validated systems will be important to fully realise the benefits of new technologies.

Keywords: Diet; Internet; Nutrition assessment; Nutritional epidemiology.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomedical Research / methods
  • Biomedical Research / trends
  • Child
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Congresses as Topic
  • Databases, Factual
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Diet / trends
  • Diet Surveys / methods*
  • Diet Surveys / trends
  • Dietetics / methods
  • Dietetics / trends
  • Elder Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Food Packaging
  • Food, Preserved / adverse effects*
  • Food, Preserved / analysis
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Mobile Applications
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Nutritional Sciences / methods
  • Nutritional Sciences / trends
  • Nutritive Value
  • Obesity / diet therapy
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Portion Size
  • Societies, Scientific