Tech tools tapping into young adults’ diet

Jul 13 2016

Technology will be the tool of choice to target the poor diets of young adults in a University of Newcastle/HMRI study aiming to test the effectiveness of personalised interventions to improve diet quality.

The Advice, Ideas and Motivation for My Eating (AIM 4 ME) study will recruit more than 2000 young people aged 18-26 Australia-wide to test varying levels of support, ranging from a Healthy Eating Quiz, to a Healthy Eating Survey web app offering personalised feedback on diet quality in real time, to personal nutrition coaching through online video counselling sessions via smartphones or ipads.

University of Newcastle Nutrition and Dietetics Professor Clare Collins has been awarded a $522,000 National Health and Medical Research Council grant to investigate the efficiency and cost effectiveness of three online interventions targeting healthy eating in the 18-24 age group.

Professor Collins said poor eating habits increased the risk for heart disease, diabetes and the cost of health care.

“Young adults can be a hard group to influence as living in the moment is often more important to them than thinking about the long term effects on their health.

“We already know that dietary inadequacies contribute to the chronic disease epidemic, yet many young adults are unaware of how their diet compares to recommendations. If we can encourage people to eat more healthily, everything else improves and this can forge a healthy path for future generations.”    

The study will use the Australian Eating Survey (AES), an automated system using a validated dietary assessment method to provide immediate, personalised feedback on food and nutrition intakes and a comparison to national recommendations. 

Participants can learn in real time how their eating habits are tracking and put them in touch with resources that interest them to make improvements.

“If you are eating better, you are going to feel better and that translates to being a better friend, a better partner, a better employee.”

Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) and registered nutritionists are the only health professionals qualified to assess, diagnose and counsel individual’s nutritional dietary problems, but for many young people, direct access to these health practitioners is only through private practice, which is expensive, or by referral to hospital or community health.

“This initiative will allow young adults to directly access inexpensive, personally-tailored, quality-assured feedback on their diet whenever they want, irrespective of their financial status or location. It won’t matter if they are in Tamworth, Taree, Walgett or Moree,” Prof Collins said.

“We know that adopting and maintaining positive dietary behaviour change requires ongoing support and individualised feedback and monitoring.

“Yet there has been no technology-based dietary assessment method able to generate personally-tailored valid and comprehensive assessments of food and nutrient intake. This will be the first time an intervention providing food and nutrient intake in real time has been tested.”

* Professor Clare Collins is Director of the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre in Physical Activity and Nutrition. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.