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Pocket dietitian helping overweight adults LiveLighter

Smartphones, fitness trackers and apps have combined to give Curtin University scientists an edge in the latest study to find out if personalised feedback about diet and exercise can help people lose weight.

Food photos in the name of science.
Food photos in the name of science.

While taking photos of your food is often greeted with eye rolls or sighs of exasperation, some people throughout Perth will soon partake in the social faux pas in the name of science.

The study is the brainchild of School of Public Health Associate Professor, Deborah Kerr, who is trying to better understand how people can lose weight by improving their diet and exercise regime.

Kerr and her colleagues, including School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science Professor, Leon Straker, are seeking people with a smartphone who are also overweight to participate in a study where they will take before and after photos of everything they eat or drink for four days via a custom-designed app.

The app is called the Mobile Food record and was developed over the past 10 years. Kerr collaborated with University of Hawaii Cancer Centre nutritionist Professor, Carol Boushey, Purdue University Professor, Edward Delp, and a team of engineers.

The study participants will also be required to wear an activity monitor for seven days to keep tabs on their level of physical activity while they are monitoring their diet.

After receiving this information the dietitians will send out regular, personalised feedback to select study participants for six months to see if the personalised feedback helps them eat less junk food, be more physically active and lose weight.

The campaign is described as having a dietician in your pocket.
The campaign is described as having a dietician in your pocket.

The research is possible thanks to a three-year Healthway grant which will see Kerr and Straker recruit 600 people in the Perth area between the ages of 25 to 65 via the LiveLighter campaign.

Participants will be split into three 200-person groups, with one group receiving personalised feedback on their regular food and exercise regime. The other groups will simply take photos of their food without receiving feedback or completing online surveys about their diet and physical activity.

“We are making it more personal to the individual, so rather than it be a generic message like ‘eat more fruit and veg’ or ‘eat less junk food’, it is actually more like ‘this is how many serves of junk food you are having, could you try swapping your soft drinks for water or a sugar free drink?” Kerr says.

“Some people refer to it as having a dietitian in your pocket, so you have your mobile phone that collects the information and then we provide the feedback.”

A unique aspect of this project is the partnership with Heart Foundation WA’s Maria Szybiak and Cancer Council WA’s Steve Pratt and Anne Finch.

“In public health, we talk a lot about being able to translate research into practice,” says Finch.

“The LiveLighter team is really excited to be involved in this project because it’s already influencing the way our social marketing campaign is being run.”

Written by: Nicholas Brant

First published in Health at Curtin.