Scaling up Dietary Data for Decision-Making in Low-Income Countries: New Technological Frontiers.

Publication Date: 
Nov 16, 2017

Dietary surveys in low-income countries (LICs) are hindered by low investment in the necessary research infrastructure, including a lack of basic technology for data collection, links to food composition information, and data processing. The result has been a dearth of dietary data in many LICs because of the high cost and time burden associated with dietary surveys, which are typically carried out by interviewers using pencil and paper. This study reviewed innovative dietary assessment technologies and gauged their suitability to improve the quality and time required to collect dietary data in LICs. Predefined search terms were used to identify technologies from peer-reviewed and gray literature. A total of 78 technologies were identified and grouped into 6 categories: 1) computer- and tablet-based, 2) mobile-based, 3) camera-enabled, 4) scale-based, 5) wearable, and 6) handheld spectrometers. For each technology, information was extracted on a number of overarching factors, including the primary purpose, mode of administration, and data processing capabilities. Each technology was then assessed against predetermined criteria, including requirements for respondent literacy, battery life, requirements for connectivity, ability to measure macro- and micronutrients, and overall appropriateness for use in LICs. Few technologies reviewed met all the criteria, exhibiting both practical constraints and a lack of demonstrated feasibility for use in LICs, particularly for large-scale, population-based surveys. To increase collection of dietary data in LICs, development of a contextually adaptable, interviewer-administered dietary assessment platform is recommended. Additional investments in the research infrastructure are equally important to ensure time and cost savings for the user.