Usability of food size AIDS in mobile dietary reporting apps for young adults: Randomized controlled trial

Ying Chieh Liu*, Sheng Tang Wu, Shan Ju Lin, Chien Hung Chen, Yu Sheng Lin, Hsin Yun Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Young adults are more likely to use self-managed dietary reporting apps. However, there is scant research examining the user experience of different measurement approaches for mobile dietary reporting apps when dealing with a wide variety of food shapes and container sizes. Objective: Field user experience testing was conducted under actual meal conditions to assess the accuracy, efficiency, and subjective reaction of three food portion measurement methods embedded in a developed mobile app. Key-in–based aid (KBA), commonly used in many current apps, relies on the user’s ability to key in volumes or weights. Photo-based aid (PBA) extends traditional assessment methods, allowing users to scroll, observe, and select a reduced-size image from a set of options. Gesture-based aid (GBA) is a new experimental approach in which the user makes finger movements on the screen to roughly describe food portion boundaries accompanied by a background reference. Methods: A group of 124 young adults aged 19 to 26 years was recruited for a head-to-head randomized comparison and divided into 3 groups: a KBA (n=42) control group and PBA (n=41) and GBA (n=41) experimental groups. In total, 3 meals (ie, breakfast, lunch, and dinner) were served in a university cafeteria. Participants were provided with 25 dishes and beverages for selection, with a variety of food shapes and containers that reflect everyday life conditions. The accuracy of and time spent on realistic interaction during food portion estimation and the subjective reaction of each aid were recorded and analyzed. Results: Participants in the KBA group provided the highest accuracy in terms of hash brown weight (P=.004) and outperformed PBA or GBA for many soft drinks in cups. PBA had the best results for a cylindrical hot dog (P<.001), irregularly shaped pork chop (P<.001), and green tea beverage (660 mL; P<.001). GBA outperformed PBA for most drinks, and GBA outperformed KBA for some vegetables. The GBA group spent significantly more time assessing food items than the KBA and PBA groups. For each aid, the overall subjective reaction based on the score of the System Usability Scale was not significantly different. Conclusions: Experimental results show that each aid had some distinguishing advantages. In terms of user acceptance, participants considered all 3 aids to be usable. Furthermore, users’ subjective opinions regarding measurement accuracy contradicted the empirical findings. Future work will consider the use of each aid based on food or container shape and integrate the various advantages of the 3 different aids for better results. Our findings on the use of portion size aids are based on realistic and diverse food items, providing a useful reference for future app improvement of an effective, evidence-based, and acceptable feature.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14543
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number4
StatePublished - 04 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Ying-Chieh Liu, Sheng-Tang Wu, Shan-Ju Lin, Chien-Hung Chen, Yu-Sheng Lin, Hsin-Yun Chen.


  • Dietary reporting
  • Mobile health
  • Portion size measurement
  • Prototype
  • Randomized controlled trial
  • User-centered design


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