Development of a Web application for the momentary ecological assessment of eating habits among college students: the HEALTHY-UNICT project

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Nutrients. 2022 Jan 13;14(2):330. doi: 10.3390/nu14020330.


The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a critical time for the development of healthy behaviors. Yet it is often characterized by unhealthy food choices. Given the current pandemic scenario, it is also essential to assess the effects of coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) on lifestyles and diets, especially among young people. However, the assessment of dietary habits and their determinants is a complex issue that requires innovative approaches and tools, such as those based on Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA). Here we describe the first phases of the “HEALTHY-UNICT” project, which aimed to develop and validate a web application for the EMA of food data among students at the University of Catania, Italy. The pilot study included 138 college students (mean age 24, SD=4.2; 75.4% female), who used the web application for one week before completing a food frequency questionnaire for validation. Food data obtained through both tools showed moderate correlations, with the lowest value for butter and margarine and the highest for pizza (Spearman’s correlation coefficients of 0.202 and 0.699, respectively). According to the cross-classification analysis, the percentage of students classified in the same quartile ranged from 36.9% for vegetable oil to 58.1% for pizza. Consistent with these results, weighted kappa values ​​ranged from 0.15 for vegetable oil to 0.67 for pizza, and most food categories had values ​​greater than 0.4. This web application showed good usability among students, assessed using a 19-item usability scale. Additionally, the web application also had the potential to assess the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ behaviors and emotions, showing moderate impact on sedentary activities, stress levels, and depression. These results, although interesting, could be confirmed by the next phases of the HEALTHY-UNICT project, which aims to characterize lifestyles, eating habits and their relationship with anthropometric measurements and emotions in a larger sample of students.

PMID:35057511 | DOI: 10.3390/nu14020330

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