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News Article

Researchers harness smartphones for food security studies in Bangladesh

Weekly food consumption reports via smartphone could transform food security research

Researchers have developed a high frequency data collection system for monitoring diets year round. The system is helping monitor food security in rural populations and will assist in developing interventions to improve it. The study is published in Environmental Research Letters.

People’s diets have traditionally been evaluated by the food diary or food frequency questionnaire. Recalling diet over the last 24 hours (24h- recall) or keeping a diary for 3-4 days noting food eaten, or estimating intake over the past week are all common methods used to assess food intake. According to the study authors, these methods trade off accuracy to get a longer term view of food consumption. The researchers aimed to increase accuracy of long term food consumption by using smartphones to report 24-h recall information weekly over several months.

Smartphones have been used to assist surveyors with food consumption data collection but the researchers say remote frequent self administered surveys haven’t been tested.

The researchers tested the system among 176 adults in Bangladesh living in rural areas who were asked to report food intake of their household weekly in a standard format similar to that used in the Bangladesh Integrated Household survey. The participants responded to reminders to complete the forms weekly but had a few days to do it each time. They were rewarded with mobile data packages.

The study found that consumption was similar in the study group from week to week with the exceptions of major festivals. Individual reports of calorie and protein consumption however, varied widely from week to week.

"Mainstreaming data collection by respondents themselves, through their own devices, would be transformative for understanding food security and for empirical social science in general," says Andrew Reid Bell, of New York University and one of the authors. "It would mean their voices being counted through participation on their own time and terms, and not only by giving up a half-day or longer of work. For researchers, it would mean having connections to rural communities and a picture of their well-being all the time, not just when resources flow to a place in response to crisis, potentially unearthing an understanding of resilience in the face of stressors that has never before been possible."

The authors acknowledge the disadvantage is that the survey is biased towards those who own a smartphone but they predict ownership levels will be rising amongst rural communities.


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("food frequency questionnaire" or "food diaries" or "24-h recall") and (mobile or smartphone)



How high frequency food diaries can transform understanding of food security. Andrew Reid Bell, Mari A Roberts, Kathryn Grace, Alexander Morgan, Md. Ehsanul Haque Tamal, Mary E Killilea and Patrick S Ward. Environmental Research Letters 2021.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • I. Hoskins
  • Date
  • 19 February 2021
  • Subject(s)
  • Nutrition & health