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Healthier hearts for online shoppers

New research has seen online grocery shoppers improve their diets at the click of a button. The world’s first study of Internet shopping was conducted by researchers from The George Institute for International Health. The trial showed that offering simple dietary advice to online consumers can lead to significantly healthier food choices.

The dietary intervention study involved 497 online shoppers who received real-time personalised advice, recommending foods lower in saturated fat. The study showed that shoppers who received dietary advice reduced the saturated fat in their shopping baskets by 10%, a positive step towards a healthier heart.

Cardiovascular disease is Australia’s biggest killer, leading to tens of thousands of deaths per year. Researchers believe this innovative, low cost method of influencing dietary patterns has great potential to reduce this toll. Benefits could be especially large as the Internet savvy younger generation ages.

Co-principal Investigator of the study, Dr Rachel Huxley said today, “Online food shopping offers a unique opportunity to change food purchasing habits. Almost 150,000 Australians already purchase at least some of their groceries online every year and that number is growing. This approach offers Australians a low cost, long-term, non-drug strategy for reducing their fat intake and their cholesterol levels.”

Researchers obtained a list of commonly purchased food items that contained up to 92% saturated fat and identified a suitable low fat alternate for each. As consumers selected their product, they were presented with the opportunity to either retain the product or swap it for the alternate lower in saturated fat. A simple side-by-side, on screen display of the original item and the suggested alternate was used.

The average age of the participants was 40, each shopping for an average of about three people. The study also showed that shoppers maintained good dietary practices over consecutive shopping events. Benefits appeared greater among people with higher body mass index and greater age who may have most to gain. Lower fat dairy products were the items most frequently added to the shopping after dietary advice was provided.

Co-principal Investigator Dr Bruce Neal noted, “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.”

New technologies united with this simple approach provides opportunities for wider development. “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,” he added.

This project was published today in the open-access journal PLoS Clinical Trials from the Public Library of Science and funded by The National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Future Forum.

Top Ten Tips for a healthier shopping basket

- Coose soft margarines instead of butter
- Ten cooking, use vegetable oils (olive and canola oils)
- Avoid creamy sauces, instead choose and vegetable based sauces
- Buy meats labelled "lean" or "extra lean"
- Select chicken and turkey over high-fat processed meats (sausages and salami)
- Opt for skim/low-fat milk
- Try fat-free or low-fat yogurt
- Choose calcium-enriched soy products such as soy milk and soy yogurt
- Substitute low-fat cheese for full-fat cheese
- When buying snacks (e.g. potato crisps, cakes, chocolate) and processed foods (e.g. pastries, pies, pizza and hamburgers) look for the reduced fat alternatives available.

Emma Orpilla | alfa
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