FoodSwitch: A mobile phone app to enable consumers to make healthier food choices and crowdsourcing of national food composition data

Elizabeth Dunford, Helen Trevena, Chester Goodsell, Ka Hung Ng, Jacqui Webster, Audra Millis, Stan Goldstein, Orla Hugueniot, Bruce Neal

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    99 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Background: Front-of-pack nutrition labeling (FoPL) schemes can help consumers understand the nutritional content of foods and may aid healthier food choices. However, most packaged foods in Australia carry no easily interpretable FoPL, and no standard FoPL system has yet been mandated. About two thirds of Australians now own a smartphone. Objective: We sought to develop a mobile phone app that would provide consumers with easy-to-understand nutrition information and support the selection of healthier choices when shopping for food. Methods: An existing branded food database including 17,000 Australian packaged foods underpinned the project. An iterative process of development, review, and testing was undertaken to define a user interface that could deliver nutritional information. A parallel process identified the best approach to rank foods based on nutritional content, so that healthier alternative products could be recommended. Results: Barcode scanning technology was identified as the optimal mechanism for interaction of the mobile phone with the food database. Traffic light labels were chosen as the preferred format for presenting nutritional information, and the Food Standards Australia New Zealand nutrient profiling method as the best strategy for identifying healthier products. The resulting FoodSwitch mobile phone app was launched in Australia in January 2012 and was downloaded by about 400,000 users in the first 18 months. FoodSwitch has maintained a 4-plus star rating, and more than 2000 users have provided feedback about the functionality. Nutritional information for more than 30,000 additional products has been obtained from users through a crowdsourcing function integrated within the app. Conclusions: FoodSwitch has empowered Australian consumers seeking to make better food choices. In parallel, the huge volume of crowdsourced data has provided a novel means for low-cost, real-time tracking of the nutritional composition of Australian foods. There appears to be significant opportunity for this approach in many other countries.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)e37
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
    Volume16
    Issue number8
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2014

    Keywords

    • Food choices
    • Processed food
    • Public health nutrition
    • Smartphone technology
    • Traffic light labeling

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