A Smartphone App Combining Global Positioning System Data and Ecological Momentary Assessment to Track Individual Food Environment Exposure, Food Purchases, and Food Consumption: Protocol for the Observational FoodTrack Study

Maartje Poelman, Frank J. van Lenthe, Simon Scheider, Karlijn Kamphuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademic

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: Our understanding of how food choices are affected by exposure to the food environment is limited, and there are important gaps in the literature. Recently developed smartphone-based technologies, including global positioning systems and ecological momentary assessment, enable these gaps to be filled.

Objective: We present the FoodTrack study design and methods, as well as participants’ compliance with the study protocol and their experiences with the app. We propose future analyses of the data to examine individual food environmental exposure taking into account the accessible food environment and individual time constraints; to assess people’s food choices in relation to food environmental exposure; and to examine the moderating role of individual and contextual determinants of food purchases and consumption.

Methods: We conducted a 7-day observational study among adults (25-45 years of age) living in urban areas in the Netherlands. Participants completed a baseline questionnaire, used an app (incorporating global positioning system tracking and ecological momentary assessment) for 7 days, and then completed a closing survey. The app automatically collected global positioning system tracking data, and participants uploaded information on all food purchases over the 7-day period into the app. Participants also answered questions on contextual or individual purchase-related determinants directly after each purchase. During the final 3 days of the study, the participants also uploaded data on fruit, vegetable, and snack consumption and answered similar ecological momentary assessment questions after each intake.

Results: In total, 140 participants completed the study. More than half of the participants said they liked the app (81/140, 57.9%) and found it easy to use (75/140, 53.6%). Of the 140 participants, 126 (90.0%) said that they had collected data on all or almost all purchases and intakes during the 7-day period. Most found the additional ecological momentary assessment questions “easy to answer” (113/140, 80.7%) with “no effort” (99/140, 70.7%). Of 106 participants who explored their trips in the app, 20 (18.8%) had trouble with their smartphone’s global positioning system tracking function. Therefore, we will not be able to include all participants in some of the proposed analyses, as we lack these data. We are analyzing data from the first study aim and we expect to publish the results in the spring of 2020.

Conclusions: Participants perceived the FoodTrack app as a user-friendly tool. The app is particularly useful for observational studies that aim to gain insight into daily food environment exposure and food choices. Further analyses of the FoodTrack study data will provide novel insights into individual food environmental exposure, evidence on the individual food environment-diet interaction, and insights into the underlying individual and contextual mechanisms of food purchases and consumption.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15283
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2020

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