Research from the University of Reading finds that personal nutritional advice from an app could promote healthier choices.
The university’s biomedical engineering and human nutrition research team have collaborated to develop the eNutri app, which aims to offer nutritional advice to encourage people to eat more healthily. The findings highlight a clear link between improved eating habits and the personalised nutritional advice supplied.
Dr Roz Fallaize, Dietitian and Research Fellow at the University of Reading‘s Department of Food and Nutritional Science, said: “The research demonstrates that the eNutri technology is effective in helping users to improve their healthy food intake, with a significant improvement in diet quality for the group who had access to automated, personalised nutrition advice.”
The research can be found in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Exploring the effect of personalised nutritional advice
For the study, UK adults aged 18 years old and over with no known diseases were allocated to either a randomised personal nutritional advice group or a control advice group (population-based healthy eating guidelines) in a 12-week controlled, parallel, single-blinded dietary intervention, which was delivered on the web.
The individuals in the personalised nutritional advice group had their diets scored according to 11 criteria based on UK dietary guidance. The eNutri app gave an automated assessment of diet quality, giving the user a ‘healthy diet score’ out of 100.
The ‘healthy diet score’ includes assessments of intake of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and red and processed meat, with higher points awarded when users have the recommended intake of these. The personalised advice is then targeted to areas of their diet that they would benefit most from changing.
Improved healthy diet score
The participants’ dietary intake was assessed using the eNutri Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ). The researchers found that the app was an effective web-based tool for the automated delivery of personalised nutritional advice. They found that participants given the personalised nutritional advice improved their healthy diet score by 6% compared to the control group.
Dr Roz Fallaize noted: “While having a registered nutritionist or dietitian giving personalised dietary advice is ideal, this is often only available to those with health concerns or with the financial resource to pay. There is also growing interest in nutrition apps and web services, but many commercial apps tend to focus on weight loss or calorie counting rather than healthy eating.
“Nutritional advice should always be focused on healthy, balanced diets and positive relationships with food, and I’m pleased that our study helped people eat better. One exciting aspect of the eNutri system is the potential to offer it to lots of people at low-cost.”
Dr Rodrigo Zenun Franco, a PhD graduate from the University of Reading and lead author of the paper said: “The eNutri app prioritises healthy eating based on evidence and uniquely uses a diet scoring system to provide food-based advice that is tailored to the individual user.
“We are continuing to develop eNutri to suit specific population groups, including those with heart conditions and hope to make this available to the public in the future.”