Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science


Geography and Environment


Gilliland, Jason A.


Many Canadian adolescents have unhealthy eating habits which are risk factors for developing chronic diseases later in life. Food literacy plays a role in healthy eating habits but teens in Ontario currently lack sufficient nutrition education learning opportunities in home and school environments. Across health research, smartphones have been utilized as a novel medium to promote learning and alter behaviour. This thesis seeks to understand the effectiveness of smartphone applications at improving food knowledge in adolescents through (i) a systematic review of published interventions, and (ii) by investigating the efficacy of a novel location-based smartphone application. Findings from this thesis may be helpful for policy makers and educators when addressing food literacy in youth, as well as for health researchers aiming to incorporate smartphone technology into behaviour change interventions.

Summary for Lay Audience

Teens have patterns of unhealthy eating such as lower intakes of fruits and vegetables, higher intakes of high fat and salty snacks, and higher intakes of sugary beverages. Food knowledge refers to the information that individuals have about various aspects of foods, including nutritional information, sources of food, and food safety. Improving food knowledge is essential for teens to make informed food choices as they develop habits that will last into adulthood. Smartphones are popular among this population and are a promising platform to promote food knowledge learning. The goal of this research was to investigate the use of smartphone applications for improving food knowledge in adolescents.

In a review of similar studies, there were mixed findings for the effects of food knowledge on adolescent food knowledge improvements. Some studies reported no change in food knowledge while using a smartphone application, but other researchers found improvements in food knowledge when the application was paired with in-person instruction. Many studies lacked appropriate measurement tools to comprehensively assess food knowledge. The applications in these studies included a variety of theoretical foundations and features, but there was no pattern of features that predicted improved food knowledge. This research also investigated the effectiveness of a GPS-enabled smartphone application, called “SmartAPPetite”, on adolescent food knowledge in London, Ontario. There was no improvement in food knowledge between participants who used the application and those who did not, but an improvement in food knowledge over time was seen among those who engaged highly with the application. Engagement is a key predictor for food knowledge improvements using a smartphone application and future research should explore ways to increase user engagement. Findings from this thesis may be helpful for implementing nutrition education programming and can be used in future research that explores the use of smartphone devices for improving health behaviours.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.