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Dietary mobile apps put nutrition help at the fingertips of those with chronic disease

The Bottom Line

  • Worldwide, chronic diseases are the cause of more than two-thirds of deaths.
  • Dietary mobile apps show potential in helping people with chronic diseases lower their weight, trim their waistline, and control their calorie intake.
  • However, many dietary apps that are available commercially have not been assessed for quality, effectiveness, and safety.
  • Make sure to do your research and speak with your health care provider before making the decision to try a health-related app. 

Have you ever heard the saying “the future is now”? Well, it’s true. The world has gone digital (1), and more and more people are picking up their smartphones to better manage their health. With chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and lung disease accounting for over two-thirds of global deaths (2;3), the mobile health app market is keeping pace with the need to find ways to manage such diseases.


Tackling nutrition—through education, counselling by registered dietitians, or changing the foods we eat (1;4-7)—is a tried and true approach to chronic disease prevention (2;8) and care (1;4-7). But in practice, people with chronic diseases face many daily hurdles that interfere with their ability to stay on top of their diet (1;9).


Imagine that you’re an older adult living with heart disease. You’re scheduled to meet with a registered dietitian for nutritional counselling several times over the coming months. Each appointment will take 30-45 minutes, plus the one-hour bus ride that you must take to get there…and back. Amidst your busy schedule—and the bouts of dizziness and shortness of breath that come on at any time—you’re worried about your ability to keep these appointments.


Clearly, managing a chronic illness is difficult. Issues like time, resources, and access can quickly derail even the most effective management strategies (1;9). The good news? Living in the digital age means there are a number of dietary mobile apps available that put nutritional help at our fingertips (2). But, with these apps obtainable at the ‘click of a button’, we must ask—do they work, and…are they safe?


What the research tells us

recent systematic review found that, in the short term, dietary mobile apps may help adults with chronic diseases lose weight, trim their waistline, and reduce their calorie consumption. The apps that led to these successful results allowed for self-monitoring—giving users the ability to track things like diet and exercise. Most of these apps also incorporated or were based on some form of behavioral change theory, and in some cases delivered counselling through the app.


While dietary mobile apps currently appear to hold some promise, the review’s authors did make note of something very important—that many of these apps haven’t undergone rigorous testing to evaluate their effectiveness and safety before becoming publicly available (2). Therefore, consumers are encouraged to do their own homework to find out which apps are backed by good quality evidence that they are both safe and effective. Speaking with a health care provider about plans to add new tools to one’s chronic disease management strategy is also recommended.


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References

  1. Taylor K, Silver L. Smartphone ownership Is growing rapidly around the world, but not always equally. [Internet] 2019. [cited September 2019]. Available from https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2019/02/05/smartphone-ownership-is-growing-rapidly-around-the-world-but-not-always-equally/  
  2. El Khoury C, Karavetian M, Halfens RJG, et al. The effects of dietary mobile apps on nutritional outcomes in adults with chronic diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2019; 119(4):626-651. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2018.11.010.
  3. World Health Organization. Health in 2015: From MDGs, millennium development goals to SDGs, sustainable development goals. [Internet] 2015. [cited September 2019]. Available from http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/en/m/abstract/Js22230en/
  4. Slawson DL, Fitzgerald N, Morgan KT. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: The role of nutrition in health promotion and chronic disease prevention. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013; 113(7):972-979. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.05.005. 
  5. Nowson CA, Service C, Appleton J, et al. The impact of dietary factors on indices of chronic disease in older people: A systematic review. J Nutr Health Aging. 2018; 22(2):282-296. doi: 10.1007/s12603-017-0920-5.
  6. Karavetian M, de Vries N, Rizk R, et al. Dietary educational interventions for management of hyperphosphatemia in hemodialysis patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2014; 72:471-482. doi: 10.1111/nure.12115. 
  7. Rizk R, Karavetian M, Hiligsmann M, et al. Effect of stage-based education provided by dedicated dietitians on hyperphosphataemic haemodialysis patients: Results from the Nutrition Education for Management of Osteodystrophy randomised controlled trial. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2017; 30(5):554-562. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12472.
  8. Kirac M, Kupeli B, Irkilata L, et al. Effects of dietary interventions on 24-hour urine parameters in patients with idiopathic recurrent calcium oxalate stones. Kaohsiung J Med Sci. 2013; 29(2):88-92. doi: 10.1016/j.kjms.2012.08.015.
  9. Sun Y, You W, Almeida F, et al. The effectiveness and cost of lifestyle interventions including nutrition education for diabetes prevention: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017; 117(3): 404-421.e436. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.11.016.

DISCLAIMER: The blogs are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own healthcare professionals.

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