The University of Newcastle, Australia

Tech tools tapping into young adults’ diet quality

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Technology will be the tool of choice to target the poor eating habits of young adults in a new University of Newcastle (UON) study. The study will aim to test the effectiveness of personalised nutrition interventions on improving eating habits, nutrition and diet quality.

Clare Collins and students
Prof Clare Collins and students

“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,” said Professor Clare Collins.

The Advice, Ideas and Motivation for My Eating (AIM 4 ME) study will recruit more than 2000 young adults aged 18-24 Australia-wide to test varying levels of support, ranging from a Healthy Eating Quiz, to the comprehensive Australian Eating Survey. The support will offer personalised feedback on diet quality in real-time, from access to further resources through a web app to extra personal nutrition coaching through online video counselling sessions via smart technology.

Prof Collins said poor eating habits increased the risk for heart disease, diabetes and the cost of health care in the long term.

“Young adults can be a challenging group to engage because nutrition is not necessarily a top priority. It can be more about what feels and tastes good right now, rather than spending time planning healthy meals or thinking about the long-term effects on their health.

“We already know that nutritional inadequacies contribute to chronic illnesses, yet many young adults are unaware of how what they eat compares to recommendations. If we can encourage people to eat more healthily, everything else improves and this can help set them on a healthy path for their life and future generations.”

The study will use the Australian Eating Survey (AES), an automated online 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 the web app will connect them with resources that interest and assist them in making improvements.

Clare and the research team leading AIM 4 ME
Prof Collins and the AIM 4 ME team

“If you eat better, you are going to feel better. That translates to being better equipped to concentrate and function, making you perform better in your studies, at work and even impact sporting performance and friendships.”

Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) and registered nutritionists are the only health professionals qualified to assess, diagnose and counsel individuals on nutritional dietary problems, but for many young people, direct access to these health practitioners is only through a private practice setting, which may be expensive and inaccessible, or by referral to hospital or community health centres, which can have long waiting times.

“This initiative will allow young adults to directly access inexpensive, personally-tailored, quality-assured feedback on their eating habits and nutrient intake 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.

University of Newcastle Nutrition and Dietetics Professor Clare Collins* has been awarded a $592,000 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 Clare Collins is Deputy 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.

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