Data-Driven Nutrition in the Digital Age (Excerpt)

This is an excerpt from a longer article recently published in Sight & Life magazine (August 2019). It is co-authored by Refresh Working Group members Danielle Nierenberg, Alicia Powers and Sarah Papazoglakis.


Today, data-driven technologies are being used to improve nutrition and health outcomes at the individual level and on a global scale. For individuals, there are currently more than 325,000 mobile health (mHealth) apps available for download in global app stores related to fitness, diet, and/or medical health. And while more research is needed to evaluate their overall effectiveness, these diet and nutrition apps are playing a growing role in supporting individual health-related behavior change. In an effort to address nutrition and health at scale, emerging technologies are being adopted to transform the entire global food supply chain to ensure nutritious food is grown more sustainably and distributed more equitably.

Global Challenges: Nutrition and Food Security

The recent Global Nutrition Report finds “malnutrition is responsible for more ill health than any other cause.” The report notes that the diversification of farming systems to include a greater variety of crops that offer a wider range and density of nutrients is key for addressing malnutrition and making healthier diets more readily accessible and affordable. Optimizing post-harvest processing and distribution networks to reduce food waste are also important factors in improving nutrition because, as researchers note, “post-harvest losses are also nutrient losses.”

According to the FAO, fruits and vegetables account for the largest percentage of food loss stemming from inefficiencies in the food supply chain. These inefficiencies include pre-harvest problems, such as pest infestations, and post-harvest processing and transportation conditions that impact the quality of perishable foods that must be stored at specific temperatures in order to maintain freshness.

The Future of Data-Driven Nutrition

Technological innovation can play an important role in helping to optimize agriculture, food, and nutrition infrastructures in order to support abundant harvests, improve logistics and distribution networks, reduce food and nutrient loss, and enable greater global food security now and into the future. Many Refresh Working Group members are at the forefront of these challenges, such as Farmwave and Wright2U Freshmobile.

From facilitating individual behavior changes to addressing inefficiencies across the national and global food supply chains, machine learning algorithms and computer vision programs are among the emerging technologies being mobilized to grow more food more efficiently and empower consumers to make the best decisions about their individual health. These tools are helping to drive innovations in food distribution and food delivery that offer the potential to address food insecurity by bringing fresher food at lower cost to more people.

Read the full article in Sight & Life magazine’s August 2019 special issue on “Data in Nutrition”:

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