Online shopping interventions may help customers choose healthier foods

Washington: Basic online shopping interventions can lead customers into buying healthier foods, recent findings suggest.

According to the latest study, altering the default order in which foods are shown on the screen, or offering substitutes lower in saturated fat, could help customers make healthier choices when shopping for food online.

“Finding effective ways of lowering the saturated fat in our shopping baskets, such as from meat, cheese, or desserts, may translate to eating less of it, which could help lower our risk for heart disease. This is the first randomised trial to directly compare interventions targeting the environment and the individual to encourage healthier food choices. The findings could provide effective strategies to improve the nutritional quality of online food purchases,” said Dimitrios Koutoukidis, lead author of the study.

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As part of the study, a team of researchers conducted an experiment with 1088 grocery shoppers from UK households, using an experimental online supermarket specifically designed for the study.

Participants were asked to select ten ‘everyday’ foods that they and their household would want to eat, from a pre-specified shopping list. The participants were randomly allocated to one of four groups.

The first group was shown a list of food products ranked according to their saturated fat content from low to high (environmental-level intervention). The second group was offered the option to swap a product high in saturated fat for a similar one with lower saturated fat (individual-level intervention). The third group was shown a combination of both the ranked list and offered the option to swap products (combined intervention), while the fourth group was shown neither a ranked list nor given the option to swap products (no intervention control).

The findings were published in the Journal of International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

The authors found that participants in any of the intervention groups chose products with less saturated fat than those who received no intervention. Altering the default order was more effective than offering product swaps.

Combining the two was more effective than offering swaps but no more effective than altering the default order of items.

For participants who received no intervention, the percentage of calories from saturated fat in their shopping baskets was 25.7 per cent. Altering the order of foods or offering swaps reduced the percentage of calories from saturated fat by 5.0 per cent and 2.0 per cent, respectively. A combination of both interventions reduced it by 5.4 per cent compared to controls. The total cost of the shopping basket did not differ significantly between groups.


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