Digital food records in community-based interventions: Mixed-methods pilot study

Lauren A. Fowler, Leah R. Yingling, Alyssa T. Brooks, Gwenyth R. Wallen, Marlene Peters-Lawrence, Michael McClurkin, Kenneth L. Wiley, Valerie M. Mitchell, Twanda D. Johnson, Kendrick E. Curry, Allan A. Johnson, Avis P. Graham, Lennox A. Graham, Tiffany M. Powell-Wiley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: A pressing need exists to understand and optimize the use of dietary assessment tools that can be used in community-based participatory research (CBPR) interventions. A digital food record, which uses a mobile device to capture the dietary intake through text and photography inputs, is a particularly promising mobile assessment method. However, little is understood about the acceptability and feasibility of digital food records in CBPR and how to best tailor dietary assessment tools to the needs of a community. Objective: The objective of our study was to evaluate the acceptability and feasibility of digital food records among church-based populations in resource-limited wards of Washington, DC, USA, using a mixed-methods approach. Methods: This community-based pilot study was conducted as part of the Washington, DC Cardiovascular Health and Needs Assessment. Participants (n=17) received a mobile device (iPod Touch) to photodocument their dietary intake for a 3-day digital food record using a mobile app, FitNinja (Vibrent Health). The acceptability of the digital food record was explored through the thematic analysis of verbatim transcripts from a moderated focus group (n=8). In addition, the feasibility was evaluated by the percentage of participants complying with instructions (ie, capturing both before and after meal photos for at least 2 meals/day for 3 days). Results: Qualitative themes identified were related to (1) the feasibility and acceptability of the mobile device and app, including issues in recording the dietary information and difficulty with photodocumentation; (2) suggestions for additional support and training experiences; and (3) comparisons with other mobile apps. Overall, the participants accepted the digital food record by demonstrating satisfaction with the tool and intent to continue the use (eg, participants recorded an average of 5.2, SD 7, consecutive days). Furthermore, of the 17 participants, 15 photodocumented at least 1 meal during the study period and 3 fully complied with the digital food record instructions. Conclusions: This study demonstrated digital food records as an acceptable tool in CBPR and identified contributors and barriers to the feasibility of digital food records for future research. Engaging community members in the implementation of novel assessment methods allows for the tailoring of technology to the needs of the community and optimizing community-based interventions. Trial Registration: NCT01927783; (Archived by WebCite at

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere160
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Community-based participatory research
  • Diet
  • Focus group
  • Obesity
  • Qualitative research
  • mHealth


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