A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association showed that crowdsourced dietary advice may be useful.

The mobile app, Eatery (not available in the US app store), allows users to post pictures of foods so other users can rate it on a scale from “fat” to “fit.” Researchers used 450 photos of food and beverages that were rated by more than 5000 users (mean 18.4 peer ratings/photo).

The data were compared to ratings by “trained observers” who were using a healthiness score created based on the 2010 US Dietary Guidelines.


The crowdsourced data correlated well with the healthiness scores from the experts (r=0.88, p < 0.001). Peers’ suggestions to increase or limit certain foods were associated with the suggestions of the experts (R2=0.73).

Much like the classic example of jelly beans in a jar, this study hints at the wisdom of the crowd when it comes to assessing whether a meal is healthy or not. An interesting strategy would be utilizing social media to create behavior change apps that leverage both the wisdom of the crowd and its motivational powers.

When it comes to changing behavior, there’s no silver bullet. Physicians need to counsel their patients about the importance of healthy lifestyles and give them advice on where to start. The advice of a nutritionist or dietician can be invaluable in educating patients on how to choose wisely when it comes to their meals. But those are both discrete occurrences in the clinic. Effective tools that could be adjunctive to these efforts and accompany the patient throughout their day to day life could be invaluable for many patients.

This study suggests that using the wisdom of the masses to help build some of those “always on” tools could be an effective strategy.

Sources: Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association | Company behind the App: MassiveHealth