Scientific Meeting "Digital media in nutritional communication"

June 13, 2017

Scientific Meeting of the competence cluster Diet-Body-Brain at the Festsaal of the University of Bonn on May 9, 2017

More than 50 invited guests met for the BAEN Café (Bonn Agrarian and Nutrition Network) at the historic site of the former great banqueting hall of the Cologne electors.

Two invited speakers, Rebekka Wolf from Nestlé Germany AG and Maria Rutz from Hannover Medical School, talked about “Digital media in nutritional communication”.

Mobile technologies blend smoothly with our everyday life and are increasingly used in all age groups. A risk-benefit assessment is necessary.

In the past few decades nutritional knowledge transfer has changed considerably as described in detail by nutritionist Rebekka Wolf.

Twenty years ago, school-like consultant courses and individual nutritional counselling were the common forms to distribute and obtain nutritional information. Since then, knowledge transfer has evolved from face-to-face consultation meetings towards the use of food platforms, videos, apps as well as diet and fitness programs. Information on diet and nutrition is online available 24/7.

In addition, communities and food blogs enable personal exchange and the sharing of know-how within the online community. In this setting, however, the supply of individual dietetic information and direct interaction with an expert are lacking. Thus, several providers are currently working on learning algorithms able to offer individualized advice.

Medical health apps make it possible to reach a broad spectrum of people including those who, traditionally, have not sought professional assistance on health care issues. Therefore, a risk-benefit analysis for a targeted and effective application of these new technologies appears essential. Maria Rutz - an expert in health promotion and disease prevention - presented the results of the CHARISMHA investigation (CHAnces and RISks of Medical Health Apps) which provides an overview on the available data related to the subject of medical health apps and prevention.

This systematic literature review on the topic of medical health apps and prevention included 86 studies. It illustrates, that apps for prevention are primarily designed for lay people. Different settings and different social groups are hardly considered. Furthermore, the results show that the dietary recommendations of apps are not evidence-based. The long-term effects of using the apps remain unclear, since the duration of follow-up set in the studies is generally too short.

In the future, the evaluation of existing apps and studies with respect to evidence, extent of usage and health effects appears essential. Vulnerable groups are underrepresented in the available studies. Since the new technologies are growing fast new methods for their evaluation with high scientific standards must be developed.