Mobile ecological momentary diet assessment methods for behavioral research: Systematic review

Susan M. Schembre, Yue Liao, Sydney G. O'connor, Melanie D. Hingle, Shu En Shen, Katarina G. Hamoy, Jimi Huh, Genevieve F. Dunton, Rick Weiss, Cynthia A. Thomson, Carol J. Boushey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Background: New methods for assessing diet in research are being developed to address the limitations of traditional dietary assessment methods. Mobile device–assisted ecological momentary diet assessment (mEMDA) is a new dietary assessment method that has not yet been optimized and has the potential to minimize recall biases and participant burden while maximizing ecological validity. There have been limited efforts to characterize the use of mEMDA in behavioral research settings. Objective: The aims of this study were to summarize mEMDA protocols used in research to date, to characterize key aspects of these assessment approaches, and to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of mEMDA compared with the traditional dietary assessment methods as well as implications for future mEMDA research. Methods: Studies that used mobile devices and described mEMDA protocols to assess dietary intake were included. Data were extracted according to Preferred Reporting of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses and Cochrane guidelines and then synthesized narratively. Results: The review included 20 studies with unique mEMDA protocols. Of these, 50% (10/20) used participant-initiated reports of intake at eating events (event-contingent mEMDA), and 50% (10/20) used researcher-initiated prompts requesting that participants report recent dietary intake (signal-contingent mEMDA). A majority of the study protocols (60%, 12/20) enabled participants to use mobile phones to report dietary data. Event-contingent mEMDA protocols most commonly assessed diet in real time, used dietary records for data collection (60%, 6/10), and provided estimates of energy and nutrient intake (60%, 6/10). All signal-contingent mEMDA protocols used a near real-time recall approach with unannounced (ie, random) abbreviated diet surveys. Most signal-contingent protocols (70%, 7/10) assessed the frequency with which (targeted) foods or food groups were consumed. Relatively few (30%, 6/20) studies compared mEMDA with the traditional dietary assessment methods. Conclusions: This review demonstrates that mEMDA has the potential to reduce participant burden and recall bias, thus advancing the field beyond current dietary assessment methods while maximizing ecological validity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere11170
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • Diet records
  • Diet surveys
  • Ecological momentary assessment
  • Mobile apps
  • Mobile phone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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