Personalized and precision nutrition aim to examine and improve health on an individual level, and this requires reconsideration of traditional dietary interventions or behavioral study designs. The limited frequency of measurements in group-level human nutrition trials cannot be used to infer individual responses to interventions, while in behavioral studies, retrospective data collection does not provide an accurate measure of how everyday behaviors affect individual health. This review introduces the concept of N-of-1 study designs, which involve the repeated measurement of a health outcome or behavior on an individual level. Observational designs can be used to monitor a participant's usual health or behavior in a naturalistic setting, with repeated measurements conducted in real time using an Ecological Momentary Assessment. Interventional designs can introduce a dietary or behavioral intervention with predictors and outcomes of interest measured repeatedly either during or after 1 or more intervention and control periods. Due to their flexibility, N-of-1 designs can be applied to both short-term physiological studies and longer-term studies of eating behaviors. As a growing number of disease markers can be measured outside of the clinic, with self-reported data delivered via electronic devices, it is now easier than ever to generate large amounts of data on an individual level. Statistical techniques can be utilized to analyze changes in an individual or to aggregate data from sets of N-of-1 trials, enabling hypotheses to be tested on a small number of heterogeneous individuals. Although their designs necessitate extra methodological and statistical considerations, N-of-1 studies could be used to investigate complex research questions and to study underrepresented groups. This may help to reveal novel associations between participant characteristics and health outcomes, with repeated measures providing power and precision to accurately determine an individual's health status.
Funding provided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Unilever R&D, Foods Innovation Centre, Wageningen, The Netherlands (Project reference BB/S506916/1). TP was responsible for the main writing of the review. RV was responsible for structuring the review and aiding with content, particularly relating to statistical analysis of N-of-1 trials. BdR was responsible for
reviewing the content, figures and supervision of TP in the writing process. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.
- precision nutrition
- personalized nutrition
- Ecological Momentary Assessment
- self-report measures
- study design