Using Smartphone Technology to Promote Healthy Eating and Local Food in Ontario, Canada
SmartAPPetite is a collaborative project of the Human Environments Analysis Lab that promotes, smarter, healthier eating and strengthens the local food system in Ontario, Canada by using smartphone technology to share and expand local food knowledge.
How it works: Users of the SmartAPPetite ‘app’ regularly receive food and health-related tips that are personalized to their own dietary goals, schedules, and geographic locations. The tips – which are carefully researched and approved by a team of Registered Dietitians – offer information about seasonal availability, nutrition, safe food handling, and other healthy habits, as well as related recipes and local food vendors. Users can also choose to have location-based messages appear on their smartphone when they come near a local farmers’ market or other pre-approved local vendor. Users control how many tips they receive per day, and what time of day they appear.
Two Key Goals of SmartAPPetite
1) The primary goal of SmartAPPetite is to expand people’s food literacy in order to nudge them toward smarter food purchasing and eating behaviours, thereby improving their overall diet quality and health. Poor nutrition contributes to several critical health issues (i.e., obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes) and is a leading cause of premature death. Identifying effective interventions which improve dietary behaviours of Canadians is vital to lowering their risks of developing diet-related issues and ultimately reducing the financial burden on our health care system. We hypothesize that greater engagement with SmartAPPetite can help expand one’s food literacy and have positive impacts on dietary behaviours and long-term health.
2) A second goal of SmartAPPetite is to make it easier for people to find, buy and prepare local foods, thereby helping to strengthen the local food economy. Buying local, healthy food has the potential to revitalize our local economies by supporting local farmers and food processors and ensuring they receive a fair price for their products, and receive a greater portion of our ‘food dollar.’ Ontarians currently spend $18 billion annually on food produced outside the province. It has been estimated that if every family in Ontario shifted $10 of their weekly food purchases to local food, Ontario businesses would create 10,000 new jobs and generate an additional $2.4 billion in food sales annually. We believe that SmartAPPetite can be a powerful tool for the local economy by helping people shift a greater proportion of their food budget toward food produced locally.
The SmartAPPetite Youth Study
We are currently using SmartAPPetite in a healthy eating study with teens in Southwestern Ontario!
Background: As nutrition and health are directly linked, It is alarming that less than half of Canadians aged 12 and older eat the recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Adolescence is a critical time to intervene to promote healthy dietary behaviours because lifelong eating habits begin in childhood and diet quality tends to sharply decrease around age 14 years and remain low into adulthood. By the time adolescents reach high school they are more independent, and are making more of their own decisions about what food they eat and buy, particularly during school days.
Our primary purpose is to evaluate the effectiveness of SmartAPPetite as part of a 12-week intervention with Ontario youth. We adopt a multi-dimensional approach to assess the impact of the smartphone intervention on three key dimensions of dietary behaviours among youth (aged 13-18 years): (1) increasing knowledge about healthy foods (‘food literacy’), (2) encouraging healthier food purchasing (‘food purchasing’), and (3) improving diet quality (‘diet quality’). Our central hypothesis is that increased use of our smartphone intervention will result in greater food literacy, positive shifts in food purchasing habits, and improvement in overall diet quality. Identifying effective interventions which improve dietary behaviours of youth is vital to lowering their risk of diet-related issues now and in the future. This study has been approved by Non-Medical Research Ethics Board of the University of Western Ontario.
SmartAPPetite is the product of a cross-sector collaboration initiated by Dr. Jason Gilliland at the Human Environments Analysis Laboratory (HEALab) in the Department of Geography at Western University in 2012. In addition to members of the HEALab, academic collaborators come from Brescia University College (Food & Nutritional Sciences), Wilfrid Laurier University (Geography & Environmental Studies), Western University (Dan Management & Organizational Studies, Paediatrics, Epidemiology & Biostatistics), University of Guelph (Family Relations & Applied Nutrition), and University of Waterloo (School of Planning). Community collaborators come from the Children’s Health Research Institute, Middlesex London Health Unit, London Training Centre, the Old East Village Business Improvement Area, Growing Chefs!, and London’s Child & Youth Network. The London, Ontario firms of rTraction and DevLift Media programmed the current app which is available for iPhone and Android.