LIFANA - Toward developing a meal recommender system as a dietary support app for the elderly: Evaluation in field trials, pitfalls and lessons learned, and the path forward


Bohn T., Ferrini K., Stahl C.


International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 2023


Background: Though a variety of eHealth/mHealth dietary solutions exist, many are ill-adapted to the target population and local eating habits. A specific need exists for the elderly, a growing vulnerable population with limited digital literacy. The LIFANA project aimed at developing a mobile nutrition solution, i.e. a dietary meal-recommender app for personalized meal planning useful for the elderly. Methods: In addition to considering age, gender, and physical activity, the app assured sufficient intake of calories and proteins. The solution was optimized to consider local eating culture in Portugal (PT)/The Netherlands (NL) where it was tested. Recipes (>300) were included and aligned with national food composition dietary databases (FCDBs) to analyse their nutritional values for meal planning. Individual dietary preferences, food restrictions (i.e., allergies), and budget considerations were included in the user profile. The development process involved user integration, including focus groups and usability evaluations, followed by longer field trials in Portugal (n=53 participants, age 60-81 y, 14 months) and the Netherlands (n=107, age 52-86 y, 3 months). Endpoints regarding acceptance/usage frequency, anthropometric measures and (in PT) blood pressure and body fat were collected. Results: 23/34 elderly finalized the trials in PT/NL. No significant changes in anthropometry or other assessed markers, including blood pressure, were observed. 9% (NL) and 47% (PT) of users reported that they would consider using the solution if it were on the market. Conclusions: Via an iterative adaptive process, a dietary app was developed and improved that demonstrated acceptance/user-friendliness comparable to other tools available on the market and allowed - despite the COVID crisis - for stable anthropometric markers and blood pressure. However, it was also observed that additional features, such as a link to an online shopping app, and closer personal follow-up was associated with increased usability and acceptance of the solution and thus further personalization and nudges are warranted to increase employment of such dietary apps.



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