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22 September 2006
Click Your Way To A Healthier Diet

We all know that too much saturated fat in your diet can lead to problems like cardiovascular disease, so reducing your intake of saturated fats is a no-brainer. However, motivation, time, money, and nutritional knowledge are all factors that may affect how we control our daily intake of saturated fats, and as such, many people find it difficult to avoid exceeding their daily limit. But what if the Internet could do all of the hard work for you to ensure healthier eating habits?

A number of supermarkets now offer shoppers the convenience of ordering their groceries online, so researchers from the George Institute for International Health decided to see if such a system could be used to inform, and ultimately improve, consumer dietary habits. The researchers believe e-shopping has the capacity to offer dietary advice quickly and cheaply to a vast number of consumers. A potentially far more accessible solution than expensive commercial diet plans.

"Online food shopping offers a unique opportunity to change food purchasing habits. This approach offers a low cost, long-term, non-drug strategy for reducing their fat intake and their cholesterol levels," said Dr Rachel Huxley, co-principal Investigator of the study.

Potential participants were chosen randomly as they shopped online with a pop-up message asking if they would like to volunteer for the study, which resulted in nearly 500 online shoppers receiving real-time personalized advice. The system was simple; as participants moved to the online-checkout, the computer intervened and displayed any shopping cart items that contained 1-100 grams of saturated fat. The participants were then given the option of keeping or replacing the fat-laden item with a healthier alternative suggested by the computer.

Co-investigator, Dr Bruce Neal, said that the system could also cater for other health needs. "It is easy to imagine an adaptation of the system that could provide advice about salt intake, or advice to consumers with specific disease states such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol."

Can a fully automated intervention system lead shoppers to make healthier food choices? So far the team's findings have been encouraging, revealing that consumer dietary intake would improve markedly if such a system were implemented. "With automated personally tailored computer advice now of proven benefit in a commercial setting, the challenge will be to see the results translated into practice. This will require imaginative approaches developed in collaboration with public health advocacy groups, regulatory bodies and the food retail industry," said Dr Neal.

Source: The George Institute

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