Smart phone and smarter approaches to the fruit and veg failure

15 September 2014

The reasons behind why Australians, especially young Australians, eat a fraction of the recommended serves of fruit and vegetables was discussed at a Sydney Ideas event at the University of Sydney on Thursday, 4 September. Associate Professor Robyn McConchie, from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment joined Associate Professor Allman-Farinelli, from the School of Molecular Bioscience and Charles Perkins Centre, to present a new perspective on why Australians don't eat enough fruit and vegetables. They also outlined how they propose to boost consumption. "My research group has developed a smart phone app to help young people get their heads around eating the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables. It is creative solutions like these that can help us address a critical national health issue," said Margaret Allman-Farinelli from the University of Sydney. The researchers were addressing the fact that fewer than 10 percent of Australians eat the recommended five serves of vegetables a day (about 385 grams) and only about half eat the recommended two serves (approximately 300 grams) of fruit. Professor Allman-Farinelli was one of three researchers who led the review of evidence to help develop recent dietary guidelines for the National Health and Medical Research Council. "Those guidelines, based on our comprehensive literature review, point to the consumption of fruits and vegetables being associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. The ideal amounts to eat for these benefits slightly differ but the main message is that overall Australians' health, and the health budget, would benefit from all of us eating more fruit and vegetables." "In fact many Australians are trying to improve and there are a range of reasons, including confusion about serving sizes and issues of cost, taste and preparation skills, why they are failing." To help address the situation Professor Allman-Farinelli's research group developed a smartphone app to help young people understand serving sizes and track whether they are meeting the recommended daily target. It is currently being trialled with more than 100 young adults before it is made more widely available. "Working with colleagues in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies and in the School of Public Health, as well as with Robyn in Agriculture will allow novel technology-driven nutrition promotion," said Associate Professor Allman-Farinelli. Professor McConchie, the head of the University's Department of Plant and Food Sciences, has recently researched why campaigns in Australia and overseas often fail to persuade us to eat more fruit and vegetables. "These campaigns are more successful when there is a high degree of collaboration between producers, retail, government and non-government organisations. Also generic, mass-marketed campaigns have a lower impact compared with interventions targeting particular groups, such as children. "We'll need to incorporate these recommendations into our approach if we are going to lift our game."