Collection and visualization of dietary behavior and reasons for eating using twitter

Melanie Hingle, Donella Yoon, Joseph Fowler, Stephen Kobourov, Michael Lee Schneider, Daniel Falk, Randy Burd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Increasing an individual's awareness and understanding of their dietary habits and reasons for eating may help facilitate positive dietary changes. Mobile technologies allow individuals to record diet-related behavior in real time from any location; however, the most popular software applications lack empirical evidence supporting their efficacy as health promotion tools. Objective: The purpose of this study was to test the feasibility and acceptability of a popular social media software application (Twitter) to capture young adults' dietary behavior and reasons for eating. A secondary aim was to visualize data from Twitter using a novel analytic tool designed to help identify relationships among dietary behaviors, reasons for eating, and contextual factors. Methods: Participants were trained to record all food and beverages consumed over 3 consecutive days (2 weekdays and 1 weekend day) using their mobile device's native Twitter application. A list of 24 hashtags (#) representing food groups and reasons for eating were provided to participants to guide reporting (eg, #protein, #mood). Participants were encouraged to annotate hashtags with contextual information using photos, text, and links. User experience was assessed through a combination of email reports of technical challenges and a 9-item exit survey. Participant data were captured from the public Twitter stream, and frequency of hashtag occurrence and co-occurrence were determined. Contextual data were further parsed and qualitatively analyzed. A frequency matrix was constructed to identify food and behavior hashtags that co-occurred. These relationships were visualized using GMap algorithmic mapping software. Results: A total of 50 adults completed the study. In all, 773 tweets including 2862 hashtags (1756 foods and 1106 reasons for eating) were reported. Frequently reported food groups were #grains (n=365 tweets), #dairy (n=221), and #protein (n=307). The most frequently cited reasons for eating were #social (activity) (n=122), #taste (n=146), and #convenience (n=173). Participants used a combination of study-provided hash tags and their own hash tags to describe behavior. Most rated Twitter as easy to use for the purpose of reporting diet-related behavior. "Maps" of hash tag occurrences and co-occurrences were developed that suggested time-varying diet and behavior patterns. Conclusions: Twitter combined with an analytical software tool provides a method for capturing real-time food consumption and diet-related behavior. Data visualization may provide a method to identify relationships between dietary and behavioral factors. These findings will inform the design of a study exploring the use of social media and data visualization to identify relationships between food consumption, reasons for engaging in specific food-related behaviors, relevant contextual factors, and weight and health statuses in diverse populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere125
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Volume15
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2013

Keywords

  • Data visualization
  • Dietary behavior
  • MHealth
  • Mobile health
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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