Hyderabad: Thirteen out of the 20 mobile apps for weight loss and calorie count do not align with Indian recommendations, according to a research study carried out by the National Institute of Nutrition published in Health Informatics Journal. Interestingly, the 20 different apps were found to give 20 different suggestions creating more confusion rather than helping, found the research study.
The study which was conducted in 2016-17 tried to address the questions based on Indian recommendations. The estimates of calories consumed and spent were not based on Indian reference standards. The scientists studied the authenticity of scientific information, database, inclusion of cognitive behavioural aspects, content accuracy and technological features before drawing conclusions on each app.
The scale of 70 per cent was considered to be that of good quality and it was found that 13 apps scored below 70 per cent. The other seven apps did not use authentic or scientifically approved data and did not appear to have considered important determinants of calorie requirement like a person’s activity level.
Scientist Subba Rao M. Gavaravarapu who led the study team in NIN explained, “If the same person uses all the 20 apps, s/he will obtain 20 different kinds of suggestions which might be highly confusing. For example, a 22-year-old female with a sedentary lifestyle, a height of 163 cm, weighing 66 kg, and a weight loss goal of 500 g/week, was suggested 20 different calorie requirements varying between 1191 and 1955 Kcal by 20 apps. We found similar discrepancies in multiple queries where each app had a different answer.”
Similarly, the study also found that healthy eating practices like inclusion of fruits and vegetables, limiting saturated fatty acids and inclusion of high fibre fruits were encouraged by only by 40 per cent of the apps, and regular physical activity was encouraged only by half of them. While all the apps kept track of weight change, the waist or hip circumferences were recorded by only a quarter of them.
Though users generally prefer to use the most downloaded app or an app with the highest number of star ratings, this study found that even apps with millions of downloads did not score too well in the study. Since these apps are being developed in different countries but are accessible globally, food data base of many apps lacked common Indian recipes and also showed a large variation in calorie calculation when compared with Indian standards.
Dr Rao explained, “The present existing apps are either overestimated or underestimated where the calorie content of Indian meals or the Indian recommended diet is not in their data base. While Indians are freely using these apps they have not been designed for them to use.”
Dr R. Hemalatha, director of NIN explained, “Calorie counting apps may not be very effective as standalone tools for weight loss or dietary modification. There is a need for elaborate features like food data consumption, well defined portion sizes and ability of the user to feed relatable data.”