Evidence from Australia suggests that the internet could be used to make food shopping healthier.
An internet-based system that provided online food shoppers with purchase-specific dietary advice helped them buy foods that were lower in saturated fat than the foods they initially set out to buy, according to new study findings.
Researchers at at the University of Sydney, Australia, divided 497 online supermarket shoppers into two groups.
One group received fully automated purchase-specific dietary advice in real time. Specifically, they were given recommendations for similar products that were lower in saturated fat. The second group received nonspecific advice.
During the first shopping session in which study participants received advice, those in the first group purchased foods that were about 10% lower in saturated fats than the foods they had initially selected. Similar patterns were seen in subsequent shopping sessions.
'Internet shopping provides a unique opportunity to modify diets of large numbers of people at low cost,' study co-author Dr. Bruce Neal told Reuters Health. 'Fully automated, purchase-specific dietary advice offered to customers during internet shopping can bring about changes in food purchasing habits that are likely to have significant public health implications.'
The potential of this is clear as many supermarkets have introduced online food purchasing over the past decade. The team argued that this new medium may present a unique opportunity to help consumers make better food choices.
Neal suggested that 'innovative internet shopping companies could offer significant new services to their customers... (that) could both improve their customers' health and differentiate their service in an increasingly competitive marketplace. This service need not be restricted to saturated fat. High blood pressure, weight control and conditions such as heart disease might all be addressed by a service that checked your purchases for you.'
The study is freely available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pctr.0010022
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