Food logging: an information literacy perspective

A key project within the Libraries and Information Society research group.


Internationally governments and other health agencies recognise that obesity is a major health challenge for this century.

Indeed, diet is a critical issue for health and well-being and is surpassing smoking in terms of the potential cost to the NHS (NHS 2014). Yet there is quite confusing advice coming to the public via the media about what is healthy eating.

A number of apps and web sites offer users means to log their food intake with greater accuracy. This is part of a much wider, important movement referred to variously as “the quantified self” or “personal informatics”, and linked to growing trend towards wearable tracking technologies.

Increasing availability of apps to monitor food intake, beg the question of how information literate people are in interpreting the information they get from self-monitoring. Simple evaluations of logging apps do little to help us understand how their uses fit into wider life purposes of users, and which ultimately determine their value for that individual.

Information literacy is seen as a complex socio-cultural and socio-technical practice of engaging with information that is highly contextual. What is seen to be “information literacy” varies enormously depending on the setting or “landscape” in which the activities take place (Lloyd 2010).

An information literacy perspective will look at the information needs that users bring to self-monitoring, how users apply their information literacy to the search for and evaluation of food logging apps, and how the information in the apps is interpreted and used.

Information school seed funding 2015

The aim of this pilot project was to explore how food logging impacts diet and well-being.

We were interested in:

  • how people find, select and use food logging apps and websites
  • what factors influence decisions to use or not use apps; how food logging is used to change behaviour
  • whether people associate any data privacy or other information related risks with using food logging apps
  • what opinions people have regarding the trustworthiness of the advice provided by these apps

We gathered data from interviews and a focus group with participants who were staff or students at the university. We used the 3 modalities of information (Epistemic, Corporeal, Social) (Lloyd 2009, 2010) and practice theory as the theoretical framework for the data analysis.

The results from this project have been shared by Andrew Cox at the 2017 iConference and a presentation is available on Slideshare.

A paper based on this work has been published in ASLIB Journal of Information Management: “Food logging: an information literacy perspective”.

Pam McKinney will be presenting on this project at the 2017 European Conference on Information Literacy in Saint Malo 18-21 September 2017

Information School Network building project 2017

The aim of this project is to build partnerships with organisations whose members may benefit from food and/or activity logging based on their particular health condition or lifestyle. We will distribute a short questionnaire to members to determine the extent and nature of their logging practice and the results will be used to inform the development of a larger research project in the future. We are working in collaboration with Diabetes UK (, Parkrun ( and The IBS Network ( to understand the food and activity logging behaviours of their members with a view to providing advice and guidance regarding the use of diet and activity logging apps.

Staff members

Pam McKinney (@ischoolpam)
Andrew Cox
Laura Sbaffi
Paula Goodale


Lloyd, A. (2009), Informing practice: information experiences of ambulance officers in training and on-road practice, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 65 No. 3, pp. 396–419.

Lloyd, A. (2010), Information Literacy Landscapes: Information Literacy in Education, Workplace and Everyday Contexts, Chandos Publishing, Cambridge.

NHS (2014), Get serious about obesity or bankrupt the NHS – Simon Stevens.

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