Advances and Controversies in Diet and Physical Activity Measurement in Youth

Technological advancements in the past decades have improved dietary intake and physical activity measurements. This report reviews current developments in dietary intake and physical activity assessment in youth. Dietary intake assessment has relied predominantly on self-report or image-based methods to measure key aspects of dietary intake (e.g., food types, portion size, eating occasion), which are prone to notable methodologic (e.g., recall bias) and logistic (e.g., participant and researcher burden) challenges. Although there have been improvements in automatic eating detection, artificial intelligence, and sensor-based technologies, participant input is often needed to verify food categories and portions. Current physical activity assessment methods, including self-report, direct observation, and wearable devices, provide researchers with reliable estimations for energy expenditure and bodily movement. Recent developments in algorithms that incorporate signals from multiple sensors and technology-augmented self-reporting methods have shown preliminary efficacy in measuring specific types of activity patterns and relevant contextual information. However, challenges in detecting resistance (e.g., in resistance training, weight lifting), prolonged physical activity monitoring, and algorithm (non)equivalence remain to be addressed. In summary, although dietary intake assessment methods have yet to achieve the same validity and reliability as physical activity measurement, recent developments in wearable technologies in both arenas have the potential to improve current assessment methods. This article is part of a theme issue entitled Innovative Tools for Assessing Diet and Physical Activity for Health Promotion, which is sponsored by the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute.

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This publication was developed following the ILSI North America 2016 Tech Summit: Innovative Tools for Assessing Diet & Physical Activity for Health Promotion.

This work was supported by the ILSI North America Balancing Food & Activity for Health Committee. Learn more about ILSI North America’s work and commitment to Scientific Integrity.