Whenever I ask my patients, if they are eating their “5 a day”, the immediate answer is “Yes, sure”. However, sometimes I´m not sure if their “Yes, sure” belongs to their real eating behavior or if it is more like wishful thinking. This question applies for a broad range of behavior, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, having enough sleep, walking the 10.000 steps a day etc.. But how can we be sure what people really do in their everyday life?

The answer is: Ambulatory Assessment

Ambulatory Assessment is the state of the art method for assessing current emotional states, feelings, and behavior in the natural environment of an individual’s everyday life. Equipped with smartphones and accelerometers, it is feasible to track how individuals feel at specific moments, what they are eating across a day and how they physically behave in real time and real life. Electronic e-diaries, provided by an App, prompt individuals whenever an event occur or randomly several times a day. Especially in patient groups with attention deficits, prompting short questionnaires several times a day show better recall than an extensive end-of-day questionnaire.

In the past, food-diaries were based on unhandy and retrospective paper-pencil-questionnaires or computer input. Nowadays, new technological opportunities pave the way to e-food-diaries on smartphones, enabling an immediate and flexible input capability. The design of e-food-diary-apps may be different, i.e., by photos, drop-down-menu, text, or voice records. Important is the documentation of what and how much the participants eat and drink and a database that can be connected to an international or national food code for data analysis.

In the Eat2beNICE research project, we assess food intake every time participants eat or drink by a drop-down-menu that leads from general to very detailed food-items and asks for general meal portions and amounts every time participants eat and drink across the day. If a participant cannot find a particular food-item, he or she has the opportunity to enter a free text message or to record a voice message. If participants forget to enter some foods and drinks across the day, they will receive a reminder in the evening to add forgotten items. This procedure enables very accurate tracking of participant’s food intake in our study.

To sum up, thanks to modern technology we can now accurately measure what a person feels, does and eats throughout the day. Of course, the design of an e-food-diary on the smartphone depends on the projects’- and samples’ requirements. Overall, it has to be easy to use, easy to implement in daily life and to be fun for the participants to obtain a high level of compliance and a high-quality database.

Ebner-Priemer, U. W., & Trull, T. J. (2009). Ambulatory Assessment: An Innovative and Promising Approach for Clinical Psychology. European Psychologist, 14, 109–119. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040.14.2.109.

Engel, S. G., Crosby, Ross, Thomas, G., Bond, D., Lavender, J. M., Mason, T., . . . Wonderlich, Stephen. (2016). Ecological Momentary Assessment in Eating Disorder and Obesity Research: a Review of the Recent Literature. Current Psychiatry Reports, 18, 37. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-016-0672-7.

Fuller, N. R., Fong, M., Gerofi, J., Ferkh, F., Leung, C., Leung, L., . . . Caterson, I. D. (2017). Comparison of an electronic versus traditional food diary for assessing dietary intake-A validation study. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, 11, 647–654. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orcp.2017.04.001.

Smyth, J., Wonderlich, S., Crosby, R., Miltenberger, R., Mitchell, J., & Rorty, M. (2001). The use of ecological momentary assessment approaches in eating disorder research. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 30, 83–95.

Stein, K. F., & Corte, C. M. (2003). Ecologic momentary assessment of eating-disordered behaviors. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 34, 349–360. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.10194.

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In my previous blogs, I explained the research questions of my study. This study will be performed in two cohorts which I will elaborate on in this current blog about early life nutrition and studying gut microbiota. The cohorts are called BIBO and BINGO.  

BIBO stands for ‘Basale Invloeden op de Baby’s Ontwikkeling’ (in English: basal influences on  infant’s development). Recruitment of this cohort started in 2006, and a total of 193 mothers and their infants were included. At age 10, 168 mothers and their children still joined the BIBO study; the attrition rate is thus low. The majority of the mothers are highly educated (76%). The number of boys (52%) and girls (48%) in this cohort are roughly equally divided. A unique aspect of the BIBO study is the number of stool samples collected in early life. Also, detailed information about early life nutrition has been recorded during the first six months of life (e.g. information on daily frequency of breastfeeding, formula feeding, and mixed feeding). Together, these stool samples and nutrition diaries provide important insights in the relations between early life nutrition and gut microbiota development. Data about children within the BIBO cohort will be collected at age 12,5 years and 14 years. At 12,5 years, the participants will be invited to the university for an fMRI scan (more information about the fMRI scan will be given in a future blog). At age 14, children’s impulsive behavior will be assessed by means of behavioral tests and (self- and mother-report) questionnaires.

BINGO stands for ‘Biologische INvloeden op baby’s Gezondheid en Ontwikkeling’ (in English: biological influences on infant’s health and development). When investigating biological influences on infant’s health and development, it is important to start before birth. Therefore, 86 healthy women were recruited during pregnancy. Recruitment took place in 2014 and 2015. One unique property of the BINGO cohort is the fact that not only mothers were recruited, but also their partners. The role of fathers is often neglected in research, and thus an important strength of this BINGO cohort. Another unique property is that samples of mothers’ milk were collected three times during the first three months of life, to investigate breast milk composition. As for many infants their diet early in life primarily consists of breast milk, it is interesting to relate breast milk composition to later gut microbiota composition and development. Currently, 79 mothers and children, and 54 fathers are still joining the BINGO study. The average age of the participants at the time of recruitment was 32 years for mothers and 33 years for the father. Majority of the parents within this cohort are highly educated (77%) and from Dutch origin (89%). The number of boys (52%) and girls (48%) in this cohort are roughly equally divided. At age 3, children’s impulsive behavior will be assessed by means of behavioral tests and mother-report questionnaires.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 728018

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