App aims to boost vegetable consumption as majority of adults’ intake found to fall short

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21 Nov 2017 --- Scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have taken an innovative approach to tackling the issue of low levels of vegetable intake in Australia by launching a new app that challenges people to eat more vegetables. Using a gamified approach, CSIRO’s new VegEze app aims to motivate Australians to add extra vegetables to their daily diets and form long-term, healthier habits through its 21-day “Do 3 at Dinner” challenge.

CSIRO nutritionists will also study how effective the app’s game-like nature is at helping transform people’s eating patterns, as part of a broader research study.

The idea for the app came from secondary analysis of the CSIRO Healthy Diet Score survey, CSIRO Nutrition Scientist Gilly Hendrie tells NutritionInsight. The organization found that, in a sample of over 200,000 adults, those who reported to consume a greater variety of vegetables also had higher consumption and were more likely to meet the recommendations.

Click to Enlarge“Specifically, those who reported to ‘always’ consume three different types of vegetables at their evening meal were twice as likely to meet their daily requirements,” Hendrie says. “This behavior of ‘having three types at dinner’ seemed to be a novel, specific and actionable behavior that increased the likelihood of the desired outcome – that is to increase vegetable consumption.”

“However, we know that increasing vegetable intake is a challenge, and previous population level efforts have had limited success,” Hendrie adds. “Therefore we needed to identify theory-based strategies that were suitable for mobile technology and that increased the likelihood of change people's behavior. Goal setting, self-monitoring and gamification are all important strategies that have been utilized in making the VegEze app.”

“We need a fresh approach to improve Australia’s vegetable consumption and overall diet quality,” says CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist Professor Manny Noakes. “Our research found two out of three Australian adults are not eating enough vegetables, especially as part of their evening meal. It's time to find more engaging, effective approaches to help break these entrenched diet habits.”

Game challenges users to eat vegetables
Challenging users to eat three different vegetables at dinner every day for 21 days, the VegEze app helps people track their intake and count vegetable serves. Daily reminders and rewards help people stay motivated and on track. Features of the app include badges, leader boards and challenges.

“Committing to eating more vegetables every day is one of the most important ways we can improve our health today. Boosting your intake can be as easy as having three types of vegetables taking up half of your dinner plate,” Professor Noakes says.

“After just a few weeks using the app every day, users should feel more confident in adding more vegetables to their menu and notice some positive changes to their health and wellbeing,” Professor Noakes adds. “The beneficial nutrients and fiber from vegetables can help improve digestion and fill you up – which can help reduce eating too much unhealthy junk food.”

Since May 2015, CSIRO has studied the dietary habits of more than 191,000 adults for its Healthy Diet Score research.

Eating three types of vegetables as part of the evening meal was found to be a key marker in having a better diet, but further research of 1,068 adults showed some Australians were being held back from eating more vegetables by low awareness, lack of time and low confidence.

To help people overcome these barriers, the VegEze app features educational resources such as a visual guide to specific vegetable serve sizes, vegetable recipes, nutritional information and motivational rewards.

Information from app users will feed back into CSIRO’s study of Australians’ vegetable consumption, while helping to analyze the app’s effectiveness as an education initiative to improve Australia’s poor record when it comes to vegetable intake.

VegEze has been developed in partnership with Hort Innovation. Hort Innovation Chief Executive John Lloyd believes the vegetable consumption findings from the initiative will help Australian farmers cater to the needs of consumers.

“Consumer preferences are changing all the time – now it’s pre-packed convenience foods, as well as veggies such as kale and sweet potato. In the not too distant future it could be something else consumers are enjoying,” Mr. Lloyd says.

“Research such as that generated from this VegEze initiative helps growers stay ahead of trends, while also encouraging Australians to eat well using a wide selection of vegetable options,” Mr. Lloyd adds.

The technology was developed in Australia in collaboration with digital health solution provider SP Health.

The launch of the app comes at an opportune moment as an increasing number of survey and studies are finding that many populations in western countries are not consuming enough vegetables. 

According to a recently released CDC study, in 2015, just 9 percent of US adults met the intake recommendations for vegetables, ranging from 6 percent in West Virginia to 12 percent in Alaska. Only 12 percent of adults met the recommendations for fruit, ranging from 7 percent in West Virginia to 16 percent in Washington, D.C. Results showed that consumption was lower among men, young adults and adults living in poverty.

Seven of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US are the result of chronic diseases. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables daily can help reduce the risk of many leading causes of illness and death, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, some cancers and obesity.

The CDC's findings indicate a need to identify and address barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption. Previous studies have found that high cost, limited availability and access, and perceived lack of cooking/preparation time can be barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption.

By Paul Creasy

To contact our editorial team please email us at editorial@cnsmedia.com

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