Personalized approach: Logging food intake found to promote weight loss

Personalized approach: Logging food intake found to promote weight loss

26 Feb 2019 --- Food monitoring takes only 15 minutes a day and helps promote weight loss, according to new research, which will be published in the March issue of Obesity. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Vermont and the University of South Carolina, is the first to measure the amount of time that dietary self-monitoring takes for those who successfully lose weight. The study may indicate the growing potential for personalized tracking options such as wearables, apps and other devices. To further boost weight management results, the researchers are encouraging the industry to improve the way nutritional information, such as calories, is explained on the packaging.

Participants of the behavioral study self-monitored their daily dietary intake via the study website which had an embedded food journaling feature. After six months, the process of logging fats and calories for all foods and beverages consumed within a day only required roughly 15 minutes, for the successful participants.

“The question we had was: How much time does dietary self-monitoring really take?” says Jean R. Harvey, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont. 

Since many people dislike food monitoring, “it was surprising that it only took 15 minutes per day to log their daily food consumption,” she tells NutritionInsight.

The process of monitoring calories and fats from foods consumed can be difficult if a product doesn't have clear labeling that explains all of its nutritional information. The researchers support that the industry should make the nutritional information explained on the packaging easier to understand. 

“Clearer food labels would help. Also, giving people a sense of how many calories are necessary in a day to be healthy would give people some frame of reference,” Harvey notes.

The study followed the self-monitored dietary habits of 142 participants. Additionally, the participants met with a trained dietician weekly for an online group session, for the duration of 24 weeks. The time each participant spent on the study website, as well as how often they logged in, was also recorded. 

Click to EnlargeCredit: Ian Thomas Jansen-LonnquistOf the 142 participants, those who were the most successful in losing weight and lost 10 percent of their body weight, spent an average of 23.2 minutes per day on the site. By the sixth month, this time had dropped to 14.6 minutes.

Frequency matters more than time
According to the research, the amount of time spent logging the information was not the stronger predictor of success. Rather, the frequency of logging in was more important.

“Those who self-monitored three or more time per day, and were consistent day after day, were the most successful,” Harvey explains. “It seems to be the act of self-monitoring itself that makes the difference and not the time spent or the details included.”

“The time may have reduced because people learned how to use the system better or because they just reported fewer foods over time,” she says. “The study's most important contribution may be in helping prospective weight-losers set behavioral targets.”

“We know people do better when they have the right expectations,” Harvey notes. “We've been able to tell them that they should exercise 200 minutes per week. But when we asked them to write down all their foods, we could never say how long it would take, but now, we can.”

The increasing popularity of dietary monitoring apps like My FitnessPal, Calorie King and LoseIt is based on their ease-of-use and the fact that they are a platform with an extensive database of foods and their nutritional information. Users can add foods and interact with each other. Additionally, the apps allow users to log in activity levels and even water consumption. 

Harvey hopes the study results of the research will motivate more people to adopt dietary self-monitoring as a weight-loss strategy. “It's highly effective and not as hard as people think,” she says.

Going forward the researchers, Harvey says, aim to examine whether the frequency of self-monitoring helps with long term weight maintenance, not just weight loss.  

Innova Market Insights has listed “Eating for Me” as its number six top trend for 2019, reflecting the growing demand for individualized nutritional options. In a bid to take control of their diet and health, consumers are increasingly navigating towards personalized nutrition offerings. Digital technologies, such as wearables and apps are also increasingly informing and aiding consumers in their attempts to maintain healthy lifestyles.  Personalized nutrition as a key industry topic has spurred the launch of a number of innovative start-ups using cutting-edge technologies to offer precise nutrition advice to consumers. 

In a bid to take control of their diet and health, consumers are increasingly navigating towards personalized nutrition offerings. Digital technologies, such as wearables and apps are also increasingly informing and aiding consumers in their attempts to maintain healthy lifestyles. 

A vast range of start-ups have been launched over the past years, including Suggestic which offers an app that can provide real-time, contextually-aware, hyper-personalized food recommendations – such as restaurant menu suggestions or recipe ideas. These recommendations are tailored to individual users according to an expanding array of user biology, coupled with Artificial Intelligence (AI). A key aspect of Suggestic is that users can select their preferred diet/nutrition plan, after which it provides hyper-personalized advice, transforming the ever-expanding array of scientific knowledge on nutrition into actionable consumer suggestions.

Also tapping into the personalized nutrition trend, wellness start-up Viome recently entered into an agreement with Campbell Soup Company to acquire Habit, a personalized nutrition company that seeks to “take the guesswork out of eating right.” Viome reports it will combine its insights from the microbiome with Habit’s nutrition plans and consumer data and engagement tools to offer the first “whole-body” approach to human health. By combining their competencies, Viome is vying to create “the most comprehensive solution on the market.”

Moreover, commercial interest in clinical genetic testing has seen significant growth over the last few decades as well. After several years of regulatory challenges, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved marketing to the general public of tests for ten diseases that have genetic risk factors. In light of the move, DSM acquired an equity stake in personalized nutrition company Mixfit, which presented at Vitafoods Europe 2018. Mixfit presented its Intelligent Nutrition Assistant (Mina). After analyzing a person’s unique makeup, alongside their diet, lifestyle and health goals, Mina dispenses beverages containing a customized mix of DSM’s Quali Blends.

By Kristiana Lalou

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