UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With a $1.2 million grant from Fondation Botnar, an international team of researchers will assess the feasibility of creating and launching a global-scale artificial-intelligence (AI) app for mobile devices that diagnoses diet-related problems and offers nutritional advice to adolescent girls living in urban settings in Ghana and Vietnam.
“Our hope is that a readily available AI app that is tailored to adolescents’ circumstances can help them to improve their food-consumption behaviors and possibly even spillover to improving the behaviors of their peers, as well,” said David Hughes, associate professor of entomology and biology, Penn State.
Aulo Gelli, principal investigator and senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), said, “This project involves a new interdisciplinary collaboration between IFPRI, Penn State, the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research at the University of Ghana and the National Institute of Nutrition and the Thai Nguyen University of Pharmacy and Medicine in Vietnam, working together to extend new technology with potential to change ‘business as usual’ and improve the lives of millions of adolescents.”
The team chose to test their app in Ghana and Vietnam because these are both lower-middle-income countries in which increasing incomes and urbanization are contributing to the adoption of poorer-quality diets, such as reliance on convenience and street foods. In Ghana, for example, these diets have led to widespread micronutrient deficiencies. An estimated 44% of adolescent girls are anemic as a result of low iron intake, among other health problems.
“Undernutrition in adolescence can have long-term consequences; it can affect their brain structure and function, and for girls, it can even affect the survival and well-being of their children,” said Hughes. “Shifts to unhealthy diets and reductions in physical activity also contribute to the global increase in unhealthy weights, which, during adolescence, is associated with psychosocial problems, social stigmatization, poor self-image, non-communicable diseases in adulthood, and reduced life expectancy.”