A Qualitative Analysis of the Unintended Effects of Food Tracking Applications

Open Access
Doutt, Lauren Marie
Area of Honors:
Information Sciences and Technology
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Steven R. Haynes, Thesis Supervisor
  • Steven R. Haynes, Honors Advisor
  • Xiaolong Zhang, Faculty Reader
  • Food tracking applications
  • food tracking apps
Food tracking applications allow users to enter their food consumption into an app in order to keep track of their calories and view their nutritional breakdowns. Over the past few years, these applications have become more widely used. This exploratory study examines the unintended and maladaptive effects of food tracking applications on a user’s eating habits. Twenty people were interviewed about their experiences using the applications. Qualitative analysis was conducted, and various themes emerged in the users’ feedback. In order to understand unintended consequences, it is important to understand the intended goals users had when using the application. The five goals subjects had ranked from most popular to least popular were to improve self-awareness, lose weight, discover food intolerance, maintain weight, and gain muscle. Unintended and maladaptive effects subjects experienced ranked from most popular to least popular were they became aware of unhealthy food but still ate it, experienced unexpected guilt, experienced unhealthy eating, learned new information about their diet, and changed their eating habits based on data entry. Design implications suggested are changing colors that are used in the app, expanding the applications’ food databases, changing the reminder settings in the app, keeping track of food intolerances, and promoting awareness of important pre-existing features.