With hundreds of apps focused on dieting and food journaling, it’s hard to determine which ones are best. Most of the popular nutrition apps are geared towards weight loss or maintenance, with a heavy focus on tracking calorie intake and physical activity. While each app has its own pros and cons, many make similar mistakes.
Inexact Calorie Counting
Almost every nutrition app includes some kind of calorie-counting feature, and many boast databases with the nutrition information of almost every food imaginable. While this seems convenient, it typically is not regulated by any nutrition professional. Inaccuracies show up not only in information for packaged foods, but for fresh produce as well. For example, in looking at a few apps, I found that the nutrition information for a banana varied by about 21 calories. Not only that, many apps overlook macronutrients and micronutrients completely.
The Limits of Physical Activity Estimates
Similarly, the most common physical activities are listed in many databases. The apps make an estimate of calories burned based on a user’s weight or BMI. This can be a major flaw in exercise journaling. For instance, say a trained athlete and an overweight male both weigh 215 pounds. If they each report running for 30 minutes at 5 miles per hour, both men would be logged as burning the same amount of calories during their run. Of course, the athlete would burn fewer calories because his body is used to this kind of workout. Plus, similar to the span of calories listed for foods, the span of calories burned for physical activity can vary based on the app used.
Motivational Features Can’t Replace Real Counseling
One of the most important things nutrition apps get wrong is a lack of motivation and support! Many apps have tried combating this problem through FAQs, community blog posts with other app users, user groups and goal setting. While these aspects of nutrition apps are helpful for those who take advantage of them, for others they fall flat. These apps have yet to create ways to modify each user’s behavior towards food and physical activity. There are proven, evidence-based strategies that can be used to change behavior and result in weight loss success, but many apps haven’t figured out how to implement these strategies.
Technology developers have mastered the user-friendly experience. Now, it’s time to focus on credibility and accuracy. If they haven’t already, app developers should start working with registered dietitian nutritionists — the credentialed experts on food and nutrition.